Friday, March 30, 2012

Invited to preach at the MLK Memorial Service at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, this sermon is wrapped around Romans 12:9- and following:

A couple of questions:
How many renewed their baptism when entering the chapel?
How many of you were born after 1968?
How many of you have taken the January trek to the South and to Atlanta?  Especially the King Center?
In the past, earlier sermons focused  on the work of  Dr. King, his history and his legacy.  Every time I go to Chester, PA to a soccer match, my son and I park on the property of the church he served while attending Crozer Theological Seminary.  I have, with some degree of envy appreciated your delaying the service of memorial from a January date when students may be scattered to the four winds and placing it closer to the date when he was taken from us.  For if he were still alive he would be 83.  For those of you born after 1968 he has only been an historical memory.  You may have listened to his words, seen clips of him from Black and White television, and read the reviews of many political stripes who have praised him or taken him apart.  And as of this year the “Activist” is now cast in stone, that in some ways notes his unfinished business.
For the last month and more recently in the last few days we have heard of another Martin, first name Trayvon.  His death will be examined, but it has raised some other critical questions from folks close to me and closer to you in age.  “Day, didn’t the Civil Rights Movement address issues like this?”  My answer isn’t sufficient for the questioner or to me.  “Civil Rights was an issue of laws which compelled behavior modification, but it did not address attitudinal modification.”  I have even wondered out loud whether we will remember Trayvon a year from now.
Last week at the Preaching with Power event, the Tuesday Lecture was given by Eddie Glaude, Professor of Religion and Chair of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, gave a lecture to a relatively large crowd.  Many had gathered to see if he would address his Huffington Post article from a year ago which stated, “The Black Church is Dead”.  He teased us by walking around his central theme that the Black Church is no longer the CENTER of Black Community Life.  He did say that we have three issues that need to be address in our communities and they are not based upon color, ethnic background or religious affiliation.  1.  We need a Livable Wage.  2. We need to affirm quality education for all with a subtext of Public Education and 3. We need to address the Incarceration Industrial Complex, where we have privatized prisons which uses public funds for a profit making enterprise.  These three issues seriously affect 90 percent or more of our population.
Now when I place those elements along side the Romans passage that was given to me for this memorial, there is a substantive challenge given to all of our churches, no matter where we live in this complex society that is America.  Here those words again:
Romans 12:9-21   Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  10  love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  11  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.   12  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  13  Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.  14  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  15  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  16  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  17  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  18  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  19  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;  for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."  20  No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads."  21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Frankly I don’t care where any of starts, if the Gospel is the foundation for our agenda, then we have some definite challenges before all of us no matter where we are in our educational process.  The challenge is to seminary students and seminary professors.  The challenge is to parish pastors both urban and rural.  The challenge is how do we live out our calling as the body of Christ in a time and place that may need wise counsel as much now as it did from a thirty-four year old priest, who in the midst of teaching his students, used the blog of his day, a church door, to create some interesting discussion about the context of his day.  A twenty six year old minister who was new to the community had the church that was the closest to downtown in small city as some community members discussed how to address seating on the bus system. 
We received yesterday a letter from our presiding Bishop offering wise counsel in the context of our day.  In a “Message on Racial Justice in the wake of Trayvon Martin's death,” Bishop Hanson offers the following words, “Let us together courageously engage in God’s work of restoring and reconciling communities. Let us together pursue justice and work for peace no matter how long the journey or wide the chasm. Let us tear down the walls we erect to divide us and turn those walls into tables of conversation and reconciliation.”
In the context within which we all study, we are to be about the task of Community building.  In our communities there seem to be increasing amounts of incivility.  We live in a season of political challenges that uses words to demonize.  Every news reports speaks of winners and losers.  In the midst of that we are called to do something different with the communities that call us and train us.  We are called, maybe even summoned to share the experience of love we have received.  Our lives as leaders in the Christian community compels us to “love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” 
The challenge is to confront.  Even Romans uses the word “Hate” when addressing Evil.  In many ways the living in community here may have some benefits in learning how to offer hospitality even when every one of the students seems to be in need.  Living in a commuter environment, hospitality has to be worked at and planned.  Yet that is a central part of who we are as the Body of Christ.  Most importantly we are called upon to offer that gracious hospitality to the stranger.
In this service in memory, can we commit ourselves to not only to the Dream that is too often referred to when speaking about Martin Luther King, Jr., but to the capacity to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”  As people who are called to a myriad of situations.  I pray that we are capable of learning to “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.”  Maybe we can even find the ability to work together as congregations to make some of the critical changes that may be needed to address the three issues that affect all of our communities of faith.  For the three items lifted up by Eddie Glaude, could just as easily be lifted up again as they were 44 years ago by Martin. To see that all have access to a liveable wage.  That education be available to all as a part of the public building a future.  That we find ways to decrease the level of incarceration and seek rehabilitation rather than retribution.
That second lesson from Romans may also have a final piece of information for those of us who remember their baptism each and every time they enter the church.  "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."  20  No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads."  21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  May we continue to walk in the shoes of the saints who have preceded us.


Friday, March 2, 2012

2 March 2012
Pensioner.   Today for the first time I felt like a pensioner.  Actually my first pension check arrived on the 29th in my account, but there has been a month of changes.  I am no longer covered by the ELCA Health Benefits Program, for two reasons.  1. They changed their name to Portico and 2. Pensioners are covered by Marsh Services.  The work of managing the Part D coverage is farmed out, so that I now have to present all new cards to my doctors as I begin my quarterly visits to my friendly faced health professionals.  One small hiccup, my wife’s card hasn’t arrived, and the set that was sent on February 6th hasn’t arrived.  It’s not just Lutherans who don’t like change, it’s the elderly…

Today I attended an educational workshop on Social Media.  Keith Anderson did a marvelous job of addressing the myriad of expectations coming from nearly 60 participants.  A year ago, I would be leading a similar workshop at a synod gathering, but now I’m a pensioner, a spectator.  While I could have started this reflection on the first of March, I waited until today the 2nd, for it is the first anniversary of my new knees.  It was a year ago that I had the surgery on my left knee in a total knee replacement.  A week from today, I’ll have the anniversary for the second knee.  The fun part is that I can walk now with some degree of speed, stairs still slow me down, but in crowds, I can pass people again.  What a difference a year makes.

New invitations do come.  An easy one to accept was to be one of the volunteer chaplains for the Servant Year Volunteers who are serving a multitude of agencies in the Philadelphia area.  I’ve served on the Board for several years as volunteers have come and gone.  Yet there is a commitment by some of them to be at a chapel service on Friday mornings, so for the last month I’ve been one of two leaders at 8 am on Fridays to pray and set the tone for their work together.

A second invite came from Adult Lutherans Organized for Action which is an inter-Lutheran organization focused on ministries for persons 50 and older.  I’m one of several who have been asked to be a part of a Media Council to use the new media for improved communication.  Maybe my skills are not over the hill.  Now the question is how to I keep from being over committed, as I’m still teaching and have more than a full load of independent study students.  Maybe this is why all my congregational retirees always said that they were busier in retirement than they were while working.  Got to take another snapshot in a month…

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Snapshot - 1 February 2012

1 February 2012
Today is the first day of retirement.  I know that I announced retirement on January 6, but then I finished a two week intensive.  I graded work from the fall term and this summer, and I worked with a Dmin candidate and worked with a student on her MAR.  Then there were the final documents to Portico to get the Pension setup, new medical cards from Marsh, new cards from Social Security, etc., etc., etc.  So much for retirement.
But Today, I read for fun, I cleaned up email, I threw stuff out from the basement.  There was no pay check in the seminary mail box.  New patterns will emerge.  New expectations will be set, new work will come.  But now I get to choose.  It has already started, a congregational study team, a committee assignment by my bishop all were accepted.  At the same time the calendar got cleared for my grandson coming east to be at the Cal Ripken baseball camp.  He may be in residence for the week, but I’m sure I’ll need my sun glasses to sit in the stands and dream about the future along with him.
Now there is planning for the two classes to be taught this spring and a couple of independent studies, one of which I’ve said yes to.  There needs to be a plan for the books in my office, as there is not nearly enough room at home.  Brochures keep coming for cruises to almost everywhere, but I’m now on a pension.  I’ve planned a budget, but the challenge will be to see how realistic my mind was when it comes to living in [there’s that word again] retirement.  Let’s see if I enjoy tomorrow as much as I’ve enjoyed today.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tired or retired?

January 15, 2012
“It’s 7:59 on this Sunday morning…” and I’m not scheduled to be anywhere in particular.  Is that what’s retirement about?  Eleven months ago I wrote a letter to the President of the Seminary, where I said:
After conversations with my wife Dawn and consultation with the Integrative Theology Area, I have decided that I will retire from full time teaching at LTSP as of Epiphany 2012.  I arrived on Epiphany 1989 and that seems to be an appropriate time for this refugee from the Virgin Islands and Ohio to become a refugee again in the realm of retirement.

I’ve often light heartedly said that Jesus and his parents become refugees and illegal immigrants after being visited by the Wise Men.  For five years of my life, Epiphany was the end of Carnival on St. Croix, so in many ways it really was the beginning of a new year and the starting point for new adventures.
It is not as if I don’t have anything to do.  I finished a two week intensive class on leadership in a 21st Century church before considering that I was truly in retirement mode.  It is not as if I have any answers, but my students [my pastors in training] are facing a church that is nowhere near what I experienced in my first call 41 years ago.  If I can share creative thinking and nimbleness and the ability to keep learning alive, then I may have accomplished my mission for this year.  So as retirement seeps into my bones I have two more courses that await my presence in this first year of retirement as an adjunct professor.
I’ve been receiving some significant advice from those who have preceded me along this path of retirement. 
1.                          FIND A PLACE OF ACTIVITY AND REGULARITY TO KEEP YOU BUSY.   Though I’ve got plans to see if my golf game can ever come close to my age that may not be what they have in mind.  There are several boxes of African American Lutheran History research that needs to have exposure to a wider audience.  That may provide a bit of consistent work for a while.
2.                          TRAVEL WHILE YOU CAN.  The mail seems to contain a brochure per day to keep us appraised of the multitude of places we can go and explore.  But Dawn and I have seemed to focus on how we meet people in the places we have visited, friends both old and new.
3.                          BE AS ACTIVE AS YOU CAN BE.  There is a fragility of health that seems to come after retirement.  My own body parts have started to be replaced, with new knees last year.  The ‘Y’ and I are good friends and much more regular in our seeing each other than in the past.  I may not have a big bucket list of stuff I want to do, but I do have a long list of “round to its” that need some attention.
4.                          MAKE CONSCIOUS CHOICES.  Rather than being a relative sure bet for a ‘yes’ answer, I’m now in a position that I can say no.  It feels strange to decide where I want to go to church today.  Oh I may say yes to some supply, but I do have the ability now to go sit in the pews of my former students and hear the Gospel.  Questions arise, like do you want to sing in the choir?  That’s something I haven’t considered since I was in college. 
Yes retirement is different.  It is a change in life.  I plan on enjoying this new chapter as much as I’ve enjoyed the previous chapters in my life.  In my new refugee status, I’ll just keep shooting my snapshots.