Friday, December 1, 2006

Pastor Erik--December 2006

Worship Matters

You may have noticed over the past several weeks the return of the role of Assisting Minister to the Sunday worship at Bethlehem. I though you might like to know what it is all about.

When the Lutheran Book of Worship was published in 1978, it brought again into Lutheran worship the important role of Assisting Minister. The Assisting Minister role is based on the ancient deacon, a person whose churchly vocation was prayer along with care for the community and the poor, something they most often did along with their regular day to day work. Because of this, the Assisting Minister need not be an ordained person, but a person who cares for and is connected to the life and needs of the community. In worship, the Assisting Minister is the chief prayer minister, offering and leading prayers for and on behalf of the entire community. The best preparation to serve as Assisting Minister is a regular devotional and prayer life.

During worship the Assisting Minister prays/reads all parts marked “A:” (for Assisting Minister). This includes the Kyrie (may be done by a cantor), the opening of the Hymn of Praise (if included—also may be done by a cantor), the Prayers of the People, the Offertory Prayer, the Post Communion Prayer, and the Sending. Several people can share the Assisting Minister role during a single service (including one person writing and the other person praying the Prayers of the People).

As you can see, the Assisting Minister is largely in charge of leading the prayers that happen during the Sunday service. What the Assisting Minister does is to act as the chief layperson of the day, leading the congregation in its parts of the worship service. Whenever you all have a role to play in the service, expect the Assisting Minister to be there, calling you to prayer or leading you out in service. The work of the Assisting Minister highlights the worship elements that extend and flow out of the ministry of Word and Sacrament—Prayer and Service. These are the work that we all do, both inside and outside of the church. Each of us is called to lives of prayer and service, and the Assisting Minister helps us in that task, and sends us forth to continue our ministry in the world.


Anxious about Passing the Peace during the season of Advent? Here’s some (tongue-in-cheek) encouragement from the Lutheran Handbook:

How to Share the Peace in Church”

“In Romans 16:16, Paul tells members of the congregation to ‘greet one another with a holy kiss.’ The First Letter of Peter ends, ‘Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.’ (1 Peter 5:14)

Some Lutherans worry about this part of the worship service due to its free-for-all nature. Some also feel uncomfortable because of their fear of being hugged. You can survive the peace, however, with these steps.

1) Adopt a peaceful frame of mind.

Clear your mind of distracting and disrupting thoughts so you can participate joyfully and reverently.

2) Determine the appropriate form of safe touch.

Handshaking is the most common. Be prepared, however, for hugs, half-hugs, one-armed hugs, pats, and other forms of physical contact. Nods are appropriate for distances greater than two pews or rows.

3) Refrain from extraneous chitchat.

The sharing of the peace is not the time for lengthy introductions to new people, comments about the weather, or observations about yesterdays game. A brief encounter is appropriate, but save conversations for the coffee hour.

4) Make appropriate eye contact.

Look the other person in the eye but do not stare. The action of looking in the eye highlights the relationship brothers and sisters in Christ have with one another.

5) Declare the peace of God.

‘The peace of the Lord be with you,’ ‘Peace be with you,’ ‘The peace of God,’ ‘God’s peace,’ and ‘The peace of Christ,’ are ways of speaking the peace. Once spoken, the peace is there. Move on to the next person.

Be Aware

Safe touch involves contact that occurs within your personal space but does not cause discomfort or unease.”

(Lutheran Handbook [Augsburg Fortress, 2005], 44-45)

On a more serious note, I have been asked about the danger of sharing the peace during flu season. If you think you are contagious, or have health problems that make hand shaking inadvisable, find a creative way to share the peace (bowing with your arms folded, perhaps) that won’t endanger your health.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Pastor Erik--November 2006

Worship Matters—The Passing of the Peace

For the season of Advent, our worship committee has decided to re-introduce a worship practice that hasn’t been used at Bethlehem in the past several years: The Passing of the Peace. Believe it or not, this is one of the most ancient parts of the liturgy. Far from just a time to meet and greet, this practice caries an important meaning, and holds an important part in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Hopefully, with a little knowledge, and a little practice, the Passing of the Peace can be an enriching moment for you and for our community as we worship together.

In the early church, the Peace of Christ was announced and then shared among worshipers with the words “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” after which the people would actually kiss one another! Over time, this practice evolved to a highly symbolic one where the priest kissed the altar and then a ritual item called the “pax-board” (pax means peace in Latin) which would then be carried around for worshipers to kiss. Eventually, the practice became less regular, and would happen between the priest and deacon only on special occasions. Luther, however, thought that the peace should be proclaimed at every Communion celebration, as “a public absolution of the sins of the communicants, and the true voice of the gospel announcing remission of sins.”(Luther’s Works 53:28) Luckily, by our time, the practice has evolved to a much less frightening (and more sanitary) handshake accompanied by the words “Peace be with you.”

While in some congregations the Passing of the Peace seems to become a time to say hello and have a quick conversation with your neighbor (isn’t that what coffee hour is for?) its meaning is actually quite a bit more significant. The Passing of the Peace occurs right at the beginning of the Communion celebration, and is a time for reconciliation and coming together as a community. Jesus said “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24) The Passing of the Peace is a moment for us to reflect on our own relationships with those around us, and to offer the reconciliation to one another that we have already received from Christ. It’s putting into action the “as we forgive those who sin against us” part of the Lord’s Prayer.

The Passing of the Peace is a way for us to put aside our differences, if only for a moment, and come together, as one community, united by the forgiving power of Christ. As a unified, forgiven community, we come forward to receive Communion—to participate in the unity we share through Jesus Christ with those next to us and those around the world. The Passing of the Peace can be a powerful moment for reconciliation and is a time for us all to connect, physically, with one another. If you’re chatting, your missing something. Instead, look your neighbor in the eye, grasp his or her hand and say “Peace be with you”. You are preaching to your neighbor the love of Christ, letting them know that whatever they have done to you or someone else is forgiven, by God and by you, and that all are welcome to come to Christ’s table. What could be more important? The peace of the Lord be with you always!

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Pastor Erik--October 2006

Worship Matters

Several people have asked me about why I stand near the (uncovered) baptismal font at two points during the worship (have you noticed when?). This is different that “business as usual” here at Bethlehem, and, to let you know a secret, it’s new to me too. I started doing it when I came here, and I thought I’d explain to you why.

Where one stands during the worship service—like many parts of the worship such as what one wears, how the sanctuary is decorated, when to stand and sit—fall into a category of what the 16th Century Lutheran reformers called “adiaphora,” matters that are not essential to faith. This does not imply that such things have no meaning. Actually such seemingly unimportant things can carry quite a bit of meaning. Things that are considered adiaphora are done or not done based on what they communicate.

The reason that I stand near the font at two points during the worship has to do with a matter that is essential to faith: Baptism. Worship, as Lutherans understand it, is all about Word and Sacrament. The Word part is clear enough, the proclamation of the Gospel through the reading of Scriptures and the sermon, as well as things like hymns and prayers. In recent decades, Lutherans have begun to reclaim the focus on the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (also called Eucharist or Communion), returning to the ancient practice of celebrating it every Sunday. But we as Lutherans have not only one, but two Sacraments—Baptism is the other. Apart from an occasional infant Baptism, confirmation, or new member reception, however, this essential element of our life of faith doesn’t seem to hold any place in our worship.

In some ways this makes some sense. In the Nicene Creed we “acknowledge one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Since Baptism is “once and for all,” there is no need to repeat it. And yet, our Baptism does not only reside in the past. Each and every day we can reclaim and renew the baptismal promises that God makes, remembering that we are forgiven sinners, reborn children of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Martin Luther said that each morning when we splash water on our faces we can remember that we are Baptized, and we begin anew each day as we seek to live out our Baptism.

There are two points in our Sunday worship where it makes particular sense to remember our Baptism: the time of confession and forgiveness and also the confession of the Creed. Standing by the waters of Baptism during the “Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness,” each week I proclaim to you the forgiveness that Christ brings. Of course, this promise is already yours through your Baptism. I don’t know about you, but I certainly need to be reminded of this from time to time! The Apostles Creed which we confess together, has its roots in the ancient baptismal rite. Standing by the waters of Baptism, together we confess again (and again) the faith in which we are baptized.

I leave the font uncovered as a reminder that we always have access to the promises God made to us. Don’t be shy, go ahead and touch the water when you pass by. You can even trace the sign of the cross on your head (or on someone else’s) to remember that you have been forgiven and are a beloved child of God. Perhaps we should say “Take and Splash! Remember that this is new life given to you. Do this in remembrance of your Baptism.”

Pastor Erik

Friday, September 1, 2006

Pastor Erik--September 2006

I was going to write an article about the underlying theory of our new Christian Education program called Akaloo (which comes from the Greek word, akolutheo, “to follow”). But I found that the introductory paragraphs from the Akaloo Guidebook did a pretty good job of laying it out for us, so I’m going to let it speak for itself. I hope that you will respond in some new way to Jesus’ call to follow him here at Bethlehem. In the months ahead we will be focusing on what it means to be a follower of Jesus and I invite you, whatever your age or experience, to become a disciple of Jesus (from the Latin word discipulus, “student”). Learn about him and from him. To aid in this, we will be offering several different educational experiences: “The Catechumenate” for those new to faith or wanting to go back to the basics, “Discipleship” for those who want to move beyond the basics into a deeper life of faith, and “Club Akaloo” for kids and teens in kindergarten through 8th grade (see the schedule elsewhere in this newsletter). I hope you will come and join us.

Pastor Erik

The Theology of Akaloo (from the Akaloo Guidebook, pg 6-7)

“It is well-known that Christ consistently used the expression ‘follower.’ He never asks for admirers, worshipers, or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for.” Soren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard’s claim has a deep rooted biblical basis: Jesus came across two fishers casting their nets from the seashore, two ordinary people doing their ordinary jobs, and he said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Matthew 4:19). That simple invitation—or, rather, the person who issued it—would change those fishers’ lives forever. With a few words they became disciples of Jesus Christ. Not admirers (though they surely admired him) and not adherents (though they surely agreed with his teachings), but followers. And a follower is something altogether different.

Whatever the disciples eventually became and however they lived out the rest of their days (they all grew into zealous spreaders of the gospel, many of them martyred for its sake) they owe to the fact that Jesus chose them to be his disciples. Walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus strolled into their everyday surroundings as they went about their everyday work and called them to follow him.

It’s noteworthy that Jesus’ disciples struggled mightily with the task of following him. In fact, they were often lousy at it. They peppered Jesus constantly with questions (often trivial ones), they bickered with one another about which of them was the best, they panicked when the seas rose around them, and in the end they abandoned him and hid like cowards. It seems that whatever of Jesus’ attributes the disciples acquired through all of this, they only did so not by studiously listening to his words or emulating his actions, but through the good fortune of close proximity to him. They didn’t become his disciples through their own effort or will, but simply by experiencing Jesus first hand. They were present when he healed the lame, fed the hungry, and raised the dead. Those experiences could make a disciple out of anyone.

Jesus’ invitation—“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Matthew 4:19)—is an invitation to become an inviter. In fact, the Great Commission is a self-replicating invitation, an invitation to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples, and so on (and luckily so, or there’d have been no Christians beyond the original 12). While the life of discipleship is driven by the disciplines of faith—prayer, service, obedience, worship, study, and stewardship—the one that often gets short shrift is inviting others to join the circle.

Discipleship’s ultimate objective is to bring newcomers into the important conversations, to proclaim salvation in Jesus Christ to our neighbor and say, “Come, follow him with me.” The call to discipleship is the act of sinful, imperfect beings inviting other sinful, imperfect beings, not to become perfect or sinless, but to follow the one who is. Discipleship means to gather in as close proximity to Jesus as we can as often as we can and experience him, the Word of God made flesh in all his healing, feeding, resurrecting glory, until he comes again.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Pastor Erik--August 2006

Conga lines. Tens of thousands of young Lutherans in San Antonio, who were moved again and again to participate in the most amazing conga lines you can imagine. They happened at a moment’s notice, but quickly spread throughout the dome. Faster and more chaotic they would pick up speed, crossing other conga lines, merging and splitting, picking up teenagers along the way, until the entire floor of the dome was streaming with a moving mass of people. I’ve never seen anything like it.

But the conga lines at the 2006 ELCA Youth Gathering were not the most amazing things that I witnessed. As 40,000 teenagers descended upon the city of San Antonio over two weeks they participated in morning and evening programs of Bible study, speakers, and bands. They gave of their time in service projects all around the San Antonio area, from reading to kids at an orphanage to picking up trash at a park. They gathered in the 400,000 square foot interactive center where they learned about the various ministries of the church, heard more bands, played, and just “hung out”. They participated in activities in their hotels (if you weren’t a teenage Lutheran, there was no room for you at the inn in San Antonio!), connected to their youth groups, and learned about the culture and people of San Antonio. And on Sunday morning, they gathered together for the most powerful and moving worship service I have ever experienced. The Holy Spirit surely descended upon the church as it came together at the Youth Gathering.

The theme of the Gathering was “Cruzando: Journey with Jesus.” The word “Cruzando” is Spanish for “crossing,” a theme that evokes both the act of “crossing” and the “cross” of Christ. Each day’s theme began with “Jesus encounters us,” Jesus encounters us in our neighbor, Jesus encounters us in the cross, Jesus encounters us at the borders, Jesus encounters us in the feast. The overall message was there is nowhere you can go that Jesus has not already been, there is no boundary that Jesus has not already crossed, and in fact, it is precisely in the unknown and scary places that Jesus encounters us. The last day’s theme, Vaya con Dios, (go with God) became a rally cry, sending back 40,000 teenagers into their homes, schools, and congregations to proclaim the Christ that they had encountered. God gathers the church of Christ together, fills it with the Holy Spirit, and then sends it back out into the world.

Over the next several months you will undoubtedly hear much more about the Youth Gathering from me here at Bethlehem. I hope that I can convey to you a hint of the power of this event. I have never been more proud to be a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a church that so values its youth to commit to an event of this scale and depth every three years. A church that calls on its synods, congregations, universities, and social service organizations to supply over 2000 volunteers who plan and put on this event. And a church that takes so seriously the spiritual development of its young people to engage them where they are, with the questions they have, in languages they can understand, and is not willing to settle for the overly-simplistic and moralist messages that so often get foisted upon our young people. I thank you for recognizing my call to participate in this ministry of the larger Lutheran church. In this small way, each and every one of you had a hand in proclaiming the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to 40,000 young people, some of whom had never been encountered by it before.

Pastor Erik

For more information about the ELCA Youth Gathering visit

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Pastor Erik--July 2006

It used to be that when Christian missionaries went to far off places like Africa and Asia to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ they assumed that their job was to bring God into a place that God hadn’t ever been before. What missionaries have come to realize in recent years is that there is nowhere on this earth that God is not already at work. More often now missionaries begin by asking: “What is God up to in this place?” That question then becomes the first step, to see what God is already doing among whatever people they find themselves with. If they don’t ask this question they might miss the amazing and wonderful things that God is doing.

“What is God up to in this place?” is a question that you will hear from me a great deal, especially in our first few months together. In part I will ask because I don’t know. How is it that God works among the people of Bethlehem Lutheran Church and how is it that the people here respond to God’s gifts and the call to use those gifts in service of the neighbor? I know that there are many wonderful ministries that nearly all of you take part in. From copying the bulletin, to leading the choir, to reaching out to the needs of the community, it is already clear to me that nearly everyone in this community has a part to play, large or small. Finding out what God is up to in this place means, in part, finding out the many (often hidden) ways that you all serve here.

I also ask “What is God up to in this place?” because as we seek new directions and new energy for the life of our congregation this is a question we should all be asking ourselves. Our job is not to figure out the most amazing strategy for church growth or to attract as many people as we can and get them to give as much money as they can. Instead, our job (both as a community and individually) is to prayerfully discern what God is calling us to do in this time and in this place. You see, God already has a dream for this community, already has a plan and a way to make things happen here. Our task is to not get in the way of God’s working through us, and little by little to clue into what it is that God has in store for us. “What is God up to in this place?” I’m not sure, but I’m looking forward to figuring it out with all of you.

Pastor Erik