Grace and Peace,
On Sunday, September 9th, our congregation will join with many other congregations around the country who have and will participate in “God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday.” Since 2013 the ELCA has desig- nated one Sunday in September to be set aside for a day of service in the communi- ty. While churches participate in service in a number of ways throughout the year, God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday is a time when we can all together recognize that service to our neighbor is a central part of who we are, and be a part of that work with one another.
Throughout the Gospels Jesus calls us to love and serve our neighbors. In the 7th chapter of Matthew, in the midst of a series of sayings of guidance, Jesus calls us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. In the 22nd chapter of Matthew, included in other gospels as well, Jesus teaches that all of the com- mandments are summed up in the com- mand to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind...[and] love your neighbor as yourself.” When asked who is our neigh- bor, Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan, which essentially teach- es us that everyone is our neighbor, no matter how much we do or do not have in common. Serving our neighbors and showing appreciation for them is a central part of who we are as Christians, and one of the primary ways we live out Christ’s call to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”
We are looking forward to celebrat- ing this day for our congregation’s first year of God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday. It will be a busy day as we gather together for breakfast where we will hear about our Sunday School program for the coming year, take part in an abbreviated worship service, and then join in acts of service for the community. Our Evangelism/Outreach Committee has been hard at work planning events for the day, including supporting SOCKS Crisis Ministry, House of Mercy, making Baby Kits for Lutheran World Re- lief, and baking cookies and treats for first responders and others as an act of thanks for all they do for the community. Our hope is to have varied activities so that everyone has a way to be involved. Through these small gestures we are joining together with congregations throughout the ELCA as we work to live out our call to love our neigh- bor as Christ first loved us.
Yours in Christ,
As we all wave goodbye to the summer and summer schedules, some with a sense of relief, some already counting the days until the next one, we begin to settle down into new, or at least renewed, routines. At church we start back our Sunday School programs, our hand-bells, choirs, children’s ensemble, among other ministries. In homes with children, school has started back and families are adjusting again to routines of early mornings, homework, and sports or other activities.
Depending where you look, I am either on the tail end of Generation X, or am Genera-tion Y/Millennial, which basically just means I grew up in the time of an overabundance of extracurricular activities and constant stimulation. Schedules and routines don’t seem to be getting any easier, and the world around us continues to vie for our time and attention. There was a while there that at-tendance at church was an assumption in society, and so at least Sunday mornings were carved out and untouchable. That is no longer the case, and even Sunday morn-ings often include sports tournaments.
However, even growing up with these reali-ties as my norm, I would argue that routines, particularly healthy routines, are even more important in this culture of things vying for your attention and time. For starters, rou-tines tend to minimize stress and anxiety, particularly in children. I know when Jenn and I have something that breaks the routines that we have in the week, particularly bedtime routines, it really sets off our chil-dren and we get more mood swings and fits.
Granted Nathaniel can’t figure out a sleep-ing routine no matter what right now, but he’ll get there.
The other, and more important reason that routines are important, is that our routines shape us, particularly as children. If your family tends to eat dinner all together, you begin to long for that time and miss it when it doesn’t happen. We are very much creatures of habit around holidays, and if we don’t participate in those routines, or tradi-tions, it doesn’t feel quite right. I grew up going to church every Sunday, so any Sun-day that I didn’t get to church felt slightly empty, even if sleeping in was nice.
A piece of scripture that I continually go back to once I heard this interpretation is Matthew 6:21, ”where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It is not judging our use of money, but rather says the way we spend money shapes our heart. The same is true for our time as well. How we spend our time shapes us. If we want to be some-one that cares about volunteering our time for charity, then we should go ahead and volunteer our time, even if begrudgingly, and doing so will shape our heart. If we want to have a rich devotional life, set aside that time even if it hurts at first, and eventu-ally you long for it.
The routines we set shape us. So as we begin new schedules and settle into rou-tines, be intentional about how you spend your time and what that says about your priorities and values. If it seems out of balance from the person you’d like to be, shape your routine for the person you’d like to be, or better yet, the person God calls you to be, and the Spirit can even work through routines to shape you!
Yours in Christ,
Grace and peace,
July 27th marked the anniversary of my ordination into ordained ministry, accepting a call as the pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter. It’s been a crazy year, to say the least. First of all, my family went from 3 to 4 in that time with Nathaniel’s birth, and he has kept us feeling some level of crazy ever sense with his energy and curiosity, espe-cially now that he is mobile!
A year in ministry and Holy Comforter has been a whirlwind of a year as well. It’s hard to believe we’re now past that marker, as the time as flown by.
It has been a year of education through experience for me. Growing up the child of two pastors, I felt like I was as aware and prepared as most could be about what full-time ordained ministry entailed. While that have been some-what true, there is much that I’ve learned through this year.
I’m not good at everything. Now, I’m not so arrogant to have ever actually thought I was good at everything, but in terms of expectations of myself starting out, I was unrealistic. I’m not good at everything. I’m not even passable at everything. It’s been a year that has frustrated me with this reality, and then slowly made me realize that it’s ok that I’m not good at everything. For one, it’s only been a year. And another, God gifts us differently and then calls us into ministry together with one another who are all gifted differently and wonderfully. I have become more and more thankful for the gifts of this congregation and the ways in which people use their gifts for the glory of God, both through Holy Comforter and in their daily lives.
While I knew the kinds of joys and sorrows that pastors walk through with members of the congregation, I’m not sure I was prepared, or could have been, for the emotional ride that accompanied those times. Through this year, and through being invited into inti-mate and intense times in your lives, I have come to care deeply for you all, and so when I am invited into those times, I feel for you and with you. There are days when I have been so emotionally drained that I wonder whether I can continue this work for my lifetime, while simultaneously thinking that this work is so meaningful there is no way I could do anything else, and I feel my call to ministry affirmed.
A number of folks have begun meeting as committee to discuss the centennial celebration of the church, and it has helped me see that all that has gone on this year in ministry in this church, both that I have been a part of and that I have not, isn’t even a drop in the bucket of what this congregation has been a part of through the years. These meetings have helped me to appreciate the scope of Christ’s work through Holy Comforter and its members a bit more. It has also made me excited that even after a year here, I feel like we’re just getting started together, and I am excited about all the ministry that we will be a part of together, in Christ’s name.
Yours in Christ,
Grace and peace,
On April 26 we welcomed 28 new members as part of Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter. 28 new members is without a doubt something to celebrate as a congre-gation, but we must look beyond simply the numbers to recognize why we celebrate.
A congregation that is only focused on the numbers is often a congregation that is dying, even if they have a lot of members. What I mean by this is that when a congre-gation becomes too focused on the number of members they have, they become much less focused on the ministry to which they are called. The work they do becomes more about attraction, and the ministry that we are called to as the body of Christ suffers. The true life of a congregation has to do its spiritual well-being and life of faith, not the number of people present on a Sunday morning.
However, I believe that congrega-tions that are committed to the work of God’s kingdom, of caring for and supporting one another, of welcoming visitors as part of the family, of works of justice and mercy in the world, and worship of our Lord, are attractive. People see the passion and sinceri-ty with which the community of faith does this work, and they see Christ’s presence within the community. We continue to work to live into our baptismal calling more and more as a congregation, just as we do as individuals (a process called sanctification), but receiving new members can certainly be an affirmation of Christ’s presence in this community.
If we were baptized as infants, our family makes promises concerning their raising us in the faith. In Confirmation, we affirm that baptism, and claim that as we grow into adults we want that faith as our own. In the sacrament of baptism, the congregation makes promises to pray for us and support us in our lives of faith. We are bound together by our adoption as children of God and members of the body of Christ, and through the promises we make to those being baptized. As we welcomed our new members, part of that liturgy was an affirma-tion of our faith, and we made similar prom-ises to them as a congregation.
While we, like every other congrega-tion, continue to work to grow and change so that, day by day, we better represent Christ in the world, I truly believe the Spirit is alive and working through Holy Comforter. The Spirit is alive in the warmth and wel-come given to those who are new to our community, through the way members walk with and support one another through trials of life, through the way we celebrate with one another in the joys of life, through the works God’s justice and mercy in the world, and through our coming together to worship our Lord.
So in welcoming these new mem-bers we celebrate not our increase in our membership roll, but that the Spirit is working in and through Holy Comforter as a congregation, and has called these new members to be a part of the mission that we share together, to proclaim Christ in the world through word and deed. Let us continue to work to find new ways that Christ can be made known in our own lives, and in the world around us.
Yours in Christ,
"I am convinced that 99 percent of us are addicted to something, whether it is eating, shopping, blaming or taking care of other people. The simplest definition of an addiction is any-thing we use to fill the empty place inside of us that belongs to God alone."
-Barbara Brown Taylor
We are quickly approaching the sea-son of Lent, a season of preparation for Holy Week and Easter. Traditionally Lent was a time when converts to Christianity would go through their education and formation process, somewhat like a catechism, to pre-pare for their baptisms on Easter. For us, Lent is a time of repentance, a time when we take stock of the ways in which fall short of God’s design for us and work to repent, which means to turn again, to God.
One of the common practices during Lent is to give something up for the season. It is akin to fasting, though tends to be less intense than a “true” fast. Many folks I know will give up sweets or sodas, some folks have given up using swear words. I’ve tend-ed to be pretty wishy-washy on the practice myself. Every once in a while I will give something up, but I don't know that it has added to my spiritual life, so it rarely hap-pens. I recognize that there can be value in it, but often I think people use it as an ex-cuse for a diet, or for ridding something from their life temporarily that they know they should probably get rid of permanently. A cleanse perhaps. It becomes void of spir-itual relevance and has more to do with physical health or personal pride.
This quote by Barbara Brown Taylor from an article that appeared in the journal
"Christian Century" struck me a while back. It helped to focus not only on the reason people give something up, but also what it is that we should give up. What are the things that we use to fill the "God-shaped hole" inside of us that only relationship with God can fill? When we are anxious, sad, worried, or depressed, what are the things that we turn to for comfort instead of turning to God in prayer? For many people this can be food, and a diet of sorts could be appropri-ate. For others this is alcohol. I've known people addicted to exercise, using it as a way to avoid situations or to "blow off steam" instead of dealing with issues both-ering them. As we journey through this sea-son of Lent, think about where it is you turn in order to fill this hole when instead you should turn to God in prayer, in worship, in scripture, or Christian community. And think about what you can ADD to your routines as well, not just take away, be it personal devo-tions, intentional time with family, works of mercy and service on behalf of others.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with per-severance the race marked out for us."
God's peace, Pastor Micah
Grace and Peace,
It is January again; the start of a new calendar year. In our culture this has be-come a time when we assess our lives and identify areas that we wish to change or improve. We make New Year’s resolutions to eat better, exercise more, or change destructive behaviors. Due to these resolutions it is also the time of the year gyms love because they get countless new members, who show up once or twice, and cause no real extra work for them. We aren’t always great at following through and creating lasting new routines. We get very used to the patterns of our lives once formed.
However, the effort and work we put in to create new habits is good. The desire to want to change, dare I say “repent” of old habits, is something we should not stop trying. There is a piece of scripture related to this which often seems misinter-preted. Matthew 6:21, in a passage full of words of wisdom, says “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Mark Allan Powell, a prominent Lutheran New Testament theologian, says this is not about measuring your faith based on your giving, but rather creating habits which lead to a change of heart. He points out that the habit or routine, here the practice of giving money, comes first. The heart follows. His point is that we should create our routines and patterns not to fit the lives we lead now, but the lives of faith that we desire to have.
If we live into the patterns, putting in the hard work even when we do not have the heart to back them up, we will be formed by them and will have a change of heart.
So I encourage you, in the midst of die-tary changes, work out routines, and resolutions to start journaling, to also consider the life of faith that you desire to have and work to create routines to help shape you for it. Take time to read scripture and for devotion, whether to start your day, on a lunch break, or before bed. Pray, not only on your own as you close your eyes on your pillow, but also with your family. Schedule it to make sure it happens. Perform acts of service and charity, showing God’s love to a world that needs that witness. Even if you don’t always feel like it, do it, and God will work to bring about change in you.
Yours in Christ,
Grace and Peace,
In mid-September I attended the NC Synod Rostered Leaders Convocation at Lutheridge. While there, the keynote speaker had a bit of an aside comment that stuck with me. He spoke about Jesus’ parable about the Prodigal Son, a parable I have heard countless times and yet continue to hear something new from it. His comment was about two words the younger (Prodigal) son uses in the story.
As the son speaks to his father about his inheritance, he uses a word which translates basically to mean “give.” “Give me my inheritance.” We know that the son squanders all he is given. When he humbly returns to his father he doesn’t ask for his father to “give” him anything. He asks his father to “make” him a servant, no longer asking for “things” given, but asking to be changed.
This difference, I think, informs us on how it is we approach God in prayer. When we come to God are we like the son at the beginning of the story, asking God to give us things? Or rather are we like the son at the end of the story, humbled by failure and the realization that “things” do not save us, and instead asking God to make us into God’s servants in the kingdom?
This difference also illuminates a distinction people make in why we come to church, and whether we do so putting our-selves first, or God first. Putting ourselves first leads us to ask questions such as, “Do I have fun,” “Do I like the music being played,” “Does it rejuvenate me for my daily life?” Those things aren’t bad if they hap-pen, but if they are the goal then we are focused on ourselves.
Rather we should ask questions such as, “Do I experience Christ’s presence in this place,” “Is God molding me and making me into a more faithful follower through this community,” and “Is worship here Christ-centered, and is the Gospel proclaimed?” These questions recognize that God and God’s desire for the Body of Christ, the Church on Earth, is what is most important, and we desire God to make us and mold us into people who work for God’s purpose and not our own.
We are all somewhere on the path from self-centered lives to Christ-centered lives, being shaped in faith so that we ask God to “make us” instead of “give us.” No one is the “perfect” Christian, getting it right all of the time. So it is that we come together in worship, confess our sinfulness, and con-tinually ask God to “make” us new, and live into our baptismal identities as Children of God, and workers in God’s kingdom.
Yours in Christ, Pastor Micah
Grace and Peace,
I do not think it is a surprise to any-one for me to say that I would never have imagined this first month at Holy Comforter to go the way it has. While I don’t think I had misconceptions about what ordained pastoral ministry entailed, some of the more emotionally difficult aspects of the call have come quickly for the congregation, particularly with the passing of Bob Williams and Jane Deaton. It is difficult to say goodbye to those we love, even in the midst of our hope and faith of reunion in the resurrection.
However, through these difficult times, I have been uplifted by the congregation’s support for the families. It speaks to the warmth and support of the congregation about which I have heard so much, that the congregation has shown eagerness to sup-port the families through cards of condolences, through attendance at funerals, and desire to care in other ways as well. I know that these families have been, and will continue to be, named in prayer by many of their Holy Comforter family.
As the Body of Christ, we are brought to-gether in Christ to be for each other what, in times of struggle and hardship, we cannot be for ourselves. We have seen this in our congregation in recent weeks, as I mentioned. Sometimes there is someone in our community who has the exact skills needed to help someone with the major issues they deal with, such as a financial planner who can help someone budget and plan to improve their financial difficulties, or a doctor who can give guidance on how to seek and receive proper medical care. Sometimes we can-not be the solution to the obvious problems, but we can support them and help with anxiety with the smaller tasks. There are things many of us can do, such as mowing lawns, doing housework, preparing meals, or offering childcare. Without a doubt, inten-tional prayer for one another is something we can do which orients us toward “the other” and away from ourselves.
This kind of caring for one another requires two things. It requires us to see the complete person who is struggling, not just as the challenges they face, and realize that we can help out in the little battles someone fights. And two, it requires us to let others into our lives in a way that allows us to receive the help that is offered. The first can be difficult in the midst of our own busy and distracting lives. The sec-ond, however, often seems to be even more challeng-ing of the two. When we confess our faith in the Body of Christ, we confess that Christ’s love for us, as well as our love for Christ and one another, unites us to one another in a very deep and real way. The implica-tions for this love and unity can bring to light some of our sinfulness, in particular self-centered lives and pride. We don’t mean to, but we can easily let our lives turn in on ourselves and only our families and ignore the struggles of those around us, our brothers and sisters in Christ. At the same time, we can easily be too proud of the perception people have of us and too ashamed to let others know of how shaky a foun-dation our “perfect life” is set on. Both of these chal-lenges, the difficulty of reaching out and allowing oth-ers to reach in, keep us from living into the love and unity with our brothers and sisters that we have in the Body of Christ.
As we move back into school years and sports, as well as church programs picking up, and our lives seem to get busier, let us remember to look to our neighbors and offer gestures of solidarity in struggles, and allow them to do the same with us.
“so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”- (Romans 12:5)
Yours in Christ, Pastor Micah
Grace and Peace,
It has been a whirlwind of a summer for my family, as I am sure it has been for many. I graduated from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in May, attended multiple weddings, a couple family beach weeks, and…oh yes, the Holy Spirit and Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter have called me to serve as pastor. The summer has been chaotic at times, restful at others, and at every point of the way filled with the Holy Spirit moving and working among various communities, lifting up God’s gift of relationships. We said goodbye to a seminary community that has been our home for the past few years, and now we are warmly welcomed to Holy Comforter and to Belmont; southern hospitality in no short supply.
I am excited to serve at Holy Comforter, as it is a congregation with many gifts and with energy for God’s work. One of the first things people mention about Holy Comforter is the gift of music that is in this place, lifting up Greg, certainly, but also the gifts of the members. That is something I have been glad to witness already, and certainly echo that sentiment. As I have spoken to a few new members, why people choose to keep returning seems to be the rare combination of compassion for one another and openness to others that this community shares. This is a gift of the Spirit, and I believe the kind of love for one another that God calls us to be a part of; a love which ultimately comes from God.
The work I have already been involved in: preparing for Sunday services, an ordination, and working with those going through difficult times in their lives, among other things, quickly brings into perspective the gravity of the work God has called me to in this place. Yet it is the same work that we are called to in various roles. We are called to proclaim Christ to a world which is in desperate need of the Gospel, whether that is in the words that we speak or the patterns of our lives as disciples. We are called to love God, love one another, and love the world around us with the love of Christ. This is a love which fills us and simultaneously calls us to empty ourselves out for the sake of others. I am blessed to be called to the Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter, and look forward to discerning how Christ is calling us to live out these lives of love and discipleship together in this place.
(Matthew 22:37-39) [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Pastor Micah Kearney