Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving I think about my elders.  My Mom would be cooking like crazy for all the family and friends to come, and my Dad would be doing everything except what my mother had asked to be done.
But this Day, I focus on the Mentors who have guided me in the Church.

Jim Gunther was a son of Annunciation Philadelphia. He was  the long time pastor at Transfiguration Lutheran Church in Harlem, NYC.  This was his final year of life and sharing his personal history as an early leader of African American Pastors from the 1950's into the 21st Century.  He served as the First African American Pastor on the Church Council, LCA.  He encouraged those who followed to "Think Globally and Work Locally."
ALLEN YOUNGBLOOD - was my first Lutheran Pastor, Mission Developer at Annunciation, Philadelphia (now Grace) and Ascension, Toledo, my home church.  He drove me to Camp Mowana, hosted me as I worked one summer as he developed Advent, Cleveland.  He was my sponsor at Ordination.

Albert (Pete) Pero was the first African American Lutheran teaching Theologian. This too was his final year among us. Active as a parish pastor in Detroit and Chicago in the 60's, he worked locally in his community for justice and social change.  His research, teaching and writing had a Global Focus as he was instrumental in the establishment of the Conference of International Black Lutherans.  He partnered with others from Africa and the Diaspora to engage in ecumenical partnership to study the theology of the Black Experience.

These are some of the Church elders who were instrumental in my formation and my work, and always encouraging me to find my way to be a part of continuing team of church leaders that "Act Locally and See Globally" the extension of all of our work in the church to the Glory of God.  I miss them all, but especially that latter two as we had unfinished work to complete.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

For All You Saints

The Audio can be found at:

LET US PRAY:  God, be with us every minute we are on earth. Christ be our staff and stay, your teachings and examples to emulate. Spirit, fill us, that we cannot contain the joy of salvation. Give us hope. Give us love. Give us joy. Give us life! Amen.
It is hard for me to reconcile that I have become the Old Foggy that I use to rail against on almost anything.  Remember I am a child of the sixties and was in college and seminary during the Vietnam War.  Now I pay homage to those who survived are now on the backside of life expectancy.  
You may have noticed that I lit a candle as well.  This summer I worked with the family of a retired pastor who was sharing with me the materials that he had saved as an early pioneer among the Black clergy in the United Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  He served Transfiguration Lutheran Church in Harlem for 38 years.  We had two memorial services during the Month of June one in Philadelphia at his first congregation Tabernacle on Spruce and then in NYC.
I experienced a bit of the Jesus, Mary and Martha saga.  I delivered an Easter Lilly on the Tuesday after Easter and we talked about its smell and the potential for a couple more of the trumpets to yet open.  We even shared that he was still working on more boxes of the research that I was saving.  Yet on May the seventh, his family and I determined it was time to have the police do a well person check as none of us had seen him or been able to get an answer at the door or on telephone.
Though we never talked about it in the same terms as the Gospel of John, we did wonder could we have done more or been more directive in placing demands on him to check in with us.  Though we all know Jesus, we didn’t raise an alarm that we needed him right then and right now.
In the Biblical story, faith is related to seeing “the glory of God” in the miracle of raising Lazarus.  Yet we know that Jesus did not avoid the trip to Jerusalem.  He did not avoid those who wanted to kill Him.  Yet somehow there are glimpse of the Glory of God that comes through in the midst of our faithful responses.  In the midst of the most trying moments in life we have the possibility through our faith to see the glory of God in Jesus and his death or in the passing of a loved one or even in the simple act of lighting a candle in this event.  Can we expand this notion of faith—that it is required in order to see the glory of God in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus?  Can we see it in our own lives? Can we see it in the little events that happen around us? Can we see it in the memory of others, for Faith sees God, where others do not.
Jesus’ prayer doesn’t ask for the miracle; but is one of thanksgiving  “I am giving thanks”. That is how Jesus addresses God. He gives thanks to God for just having been heard.  He says it loudly and clearly, for it is meant to be overheard by those standing by. Perhaps like the Great Thanksgiving in the Eucharist, we continue to offer thanks to God.  It has the power to also be a proclamation to those who overhear the prayer.  In offering the prayer we affirm that we know and live within the power and love of God.
The purpose of the miracle is so that the people might believe that God has sent Jesus.  In this raising of an old friend, whom everyone else thought would be in need of a closed casket, Jesus gives thanks for being heard.  I would at this point assume that Jesus was not the only one praying.  Martha and Mary were not just weeping and crying, they too had also been praying. 
Praying for healing may have been first, but as life seemed to be slipping away, the prayers changed for the presence of Jesus.  With the delay in his arrival their tears were of mourning the death of their brother.  Jesus is still telling us as he demonstrated to the sisters whom he loved that God was present and that God hears the thanks for his presence.
Just believing could be a thematic approach to this text.  The content of faith is that Jesus has been sent by God. That is a “faith-theme” that reoccurs throughout the gospel of John.  Jesus is the one sent by God.  It is also in response to Jesus’ word that Lazarus is freed from his restrictive bindings.
Not all of God’s works take place supernaturally. Sometimes they require a lot of work on our part.  Our church, the ELCA has a current slogan or motto it reads “God’s Work, Our Hands.”  This captures the truth of what church is and is about. We remember those who have gone before us and we remember the working together in our families of birth or our families of rebirth in the church, especially when we remember those saints who have gone before us.
This is the truth within this gospel and all Gospel.  Sometimes God’s work – even the miraculous ­– requires our hands to make it happen. This past week I took four turkeys to Christ Lutheran in Upper Darby, where I was the interim for two years.  They pass out baskets for families and cook for those who have no place to go on Thanksgiving.  Two years ago, on the second of November we stopped taking calls for baskets, after we reached 100.  But as gifts came in we opened the phone lines again so that over 150 baskets were given in addition to 90 meals from the church.  We know that a huge crowd can be fed.  The disciples were asked to distribute the food.  The miracle took a lot of human work.  Lazarus needed the help of others in order to be free from his death wraps.
I believe that your pastor is giving physical thanks this morning for those who commit themselves to research to address the causes of cancer.  It’s not just the running, but the contributions of those supporting him that is a way to pray silently for those past and present.  I am a survivor and I know the power of prayer, especially when we give thanks to God, For Just Being Present. 
Let Us Pray…
Father, we look forward to the Great Rest. We know that you will be there to take us home when we are done here. We shout with joy, knowing you have made the perfect place for us. May we give thanks for your continue presence in our midst. Amen.

My thanks to many colleagues, including Brian Stoffregen