Friday, December 14, 2012

Slaughter of the Innocents

Dec. 28... the fourth day of Christmas is not a day many preachers want to fall on a Sunday so they can avoid preaching on the Slaughter of the Innocents, the tale from Matthew that tells of Herod's slaughter of all children two and under in the hopes that he destroys Jesus.

And the real world comes and throws the story in our face exactly two weeks before the commemoration. Eighteen children and eight adults are shot to death in Connecticut.

Many who read the account in Matthew have wondered if Jesus' birth brings such violence. It appears not. In fact Jesus' birth comes in direct opposition to such heedless and wanton violence. As we approach the day of the Incarnation, we are left to remember the brokenness of the world and the promise that all will be made right and whole.

In the meantime, may we continue to point to that day by seeking justice, practicing forgiveness, and praying for the great day of the Lord to hasten. Amen, come Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Immensity Cloistered in Thy Dear Womb

Last night I read three poems by John Donne at Evening Prayer following the Isaiah 6 reading in the lectionary. I started with the classic "Batter my heart three person'd God" and then moved to two of his holy sonnets, "Annunciation" and "Nativitie." These two are part of a seven-sonnet set. They are second and third. The first line of each sonnet is the last line of the previous one, except the first line of the first sonnet is the last line of the last, giving a wonderful circularity to the whole collection.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sermon from 25th Sunday after Pentecost, Nov. 18, 2012

The apocalyptic beginnings of Jesus' discourse, where he talks about the end of the world, can drive us to fear the world around us. But at the heart of Jesus' words is the promise of God's enduring faithfulness to his promise of redemption.

An excerpt from my sermon:
In the midst of all of what Jesus says in Mark 13, we are faced with many terrible things... wars, famines, earthquakes... typical visions of end of the world prophecies but as one biblical scholar has said these events are also “persistent ingredients of history’s pageant of suffering.” For Jesus, the issue is not to get worked up about any of this. The earthquakes, famines, wars and such all continue to show the brokenness of the world and the end will be no different from the beginning. What is important for Jesus is that we know the end... not necessarily when the end will come or what historical sign will happen to let us know it is coming about... but the end. That in the midst of the the brokenness of these relationships, God will not overlook the people he has chosen... and knowing that God will continue to watch over and keep us even in the midst of terrible things (not that we will be spared from such things) we are free to live.

Read the whole sermon, or listen to it here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Strange Attractors: An Atheist, Creationism and Facebook

I have an atheist friend... ok, I have a number of atheist friends, some of whom are open and honest about it. But one friend I have known since elementary school and while we do not have regular contact, we find ourselves in interesting conversations on Facebook. So for all of the posts on Facebook that are stupid, meaningless, frustrating or the like, I get these occasional interchanges with her and others that seem to make the whole site worth it. 

It all started with an article from the website Raw Story my friend shared about Marco Rubio's recent interview in GQ where he was asked how old he thought the earth was. His response was probably typical of a politician. He remained non-committal toward either a literal seven-day creation or one as described by the accepted cosmological models. In part of his response, he said,“Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

After reading the piece, I do see Rubio as engaging in politico-speak. He simply wants to maintain distance from anything that will keep him from alienating supporters but at the same time he does not want to necessarily denigrate science.  I understand that. But I believe we need to have a society where we say what we believe and consequences be damned. Speaking in generalities and subtly changing the topic to avoid the question does not help us. Rubio claimed that he wasn't a scientist (subtly granting them authority on the matter) and didn't feel qualified. Well, the scientists do have some disagreement on finer points of the cosmological model, but age of the universe is not one of them. Just cede to their knowledge and let the chips fall where they lie. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wendell Berry... a chance encounter

On a car ride this morning, I heard an interview on the Diane Rehm Show, but I did not know who was speaking. But when I turned on the radio, I heard the following:
Well, the Port William Membership is not meant to suggest that everybody in the community is consciously a part of the membership. But the term in my work derives from a statement by one of the characters, Burley Coulters in which he improves a little, I think, on St. Paul. He says, we're members of each other, all of us, everything. The difference is not in who is and who isn't. The difference is between the people who know they're members and the ones who don't.
I sat rapt with attention as I listened to the remaining forty minutes with Wendell Berry. I admit it, I had heard his name, but had never read anything by him as far I knew. Shortly into the interview I wanted to run out and get everything he has ever written.

This interview is worth a listen, or read through the transcript. It can be found here:
Wendell Berry: "A Place in Time: Twenty Stories Of The Port William Membership"

Wendell spoke of a reality, broken yet rich with hope. Preachers could learn a lot, I believe from the way he speaks about life.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Finding the Lost...a brief sermon on Luke 15:1-10

Having just moved into a new house, and living amidst a maze of boxes, the story of the woman turning her house upside down to find two lost coins resonates deeply with me. Just a few days after we moved in, a workman arrived to do an installation. He needed a part that I knew I had packed. Only... where? I stormed through the house. I went through the likely boxes. I opened the box that SAID it had the thing I was looking for... but that wasn’t it. That label was from the previous move. I kept looking. I began looking in the unlikely places. I recruited my wife. It was urgent. The installer was on a schedule. My wife finally dug the piece out of a box, that I had passed by because this box was labeled “Shoes.” I made a little shout for joy and got it to the workman.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Politics and Jesus: A brief election day Eucharist sermon...

We live in a divided world. It is clear. Last week when the Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie applauded President Obama’s handling of the Hurricane Sandy aftermath, he was pounced upon by his own party, in effect claiming such as act treasonous in the midst of a presidential campaign. Americans increasingly live more partisan lives, watching the news they agree with... or attending a church whose beliefs are already in line with what they believe...

All too often we live our lives through a filter that seeks to keep us divided by labeling our opponents as enemies be they socialists, tea baggers, or heretics. In all of our discourse, we lose sight of the common good. We are more concerned with staying in power than what should be done to help the whole of our society. We appeal to selective readings of the Founding Fathers, political philosophers, and even Jesus, trying to take entire bodies of teaching and reducing them to soundbites and slogans to get people to pay attention. In so doing, we lose nuance and shades of gray, creating a caricatured world that only has black and white.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The End of Elections Is Nigh!

The end is almost in sight. Just a few more days until the election season winds to a close.

And maybe this reflection comes too late or simply ill-timed, like the pastor who knows that she cannot combat the terrible theology of some funeral home poems in the immediate aftermath of a parishioner's death, when loved ones want to cling to "Do not stand at my grave and weep" more tightly than they do to "I am the resurrection and the life."

Nonetheless, I feel compelled to write, because it seems many people (myself included) can forget about our identity in Christ when it comes to elections. I do not know what it is about elections that gets our blood pumping and our passions inflamed, but they do... sort of. I do find it interesting that while political discourse has grown increasingly divisive, voter turnout continues to slide. We will often point to the statistic that in general half of our nation has no connection to a regular church life. And yet voter turnout is pretty much the same. The same for presidential year election. In other years, national voter turnout is even worse. In 2010, turnout did not even hit forty percent. For all of the money spent in campaigns, for all of the vehement diatribes, for all of the apparent urgency campaigns try to instill, much of America just doesn't seem to care. But a number of us do. Maybe too much because we seem to dump our identity as children of God for partisian political supporter. If we believe our faith leads us to support a particular candidate, we should likely behave toward others as said faith teaches.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him...

While I am working on preaching through Hebrews for the next six weeks, I was at a pericope study this week and we turned our attention to the gospel text for Sunday. As I read the text, I wondered aloud how many people would place special emphasis on this one line of the gospel text. "And Jesus, looking at him, LOVED HIM, and said, 'You lack one thing...'" and then go off during the sermon that no matter what Jesus loved him That before giving him one more thing to do, Jesus loved the rich young man implicitly allowing us to continue in our overly consumptive lifestyle because after all... Jesus loves us too.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pastor Dad and Compassion

Normally for my Pastor Dad posts, I have written about my middle son and his travails particularly when I was in the middle of leading worship at my previous congregation. But about six weeks ago my oldest son gave me something to reflect upon.

On April 22, I was taking students from the campus ministry that I serve to a Pirates game. It was a great day to go but I had a few tickets leftover and I decided to see if my boys wanted to go with me.  It would be a very long day for both of them, but I figured it would be fun. And it was. And the students were also helpful in herding the boys. We took the bus from the Lutheran University Center to PNC Park and my younger son just jumped on board pushing his way past everyone to sit by himself toward the back of the bus. Several students followed him and sat with him. Made my heart settle down. They watched my older son as the younger wanted to run the bases but the older did not. It was a very nice day that way.

But what has been sticking in my brain was what happened after we left the ball park. Our group was walking back to the bus stop and in Pittsburgh that meant walking over the Clemente Bridge to the downtown portion of the city. Along the way, there were panhandlers with signs asking for money. Now these were not particularly shocking panhandlers, at least not for anyone who has walked city streets before. But for my oldest it was shocking. My younger son was blissfully oblivious to their presence. They might as well have been invisible to him. Just like infants see only black, white and red, five-year olds (at least my five-year old) do not see such need and want. Somewhere between five and nine though, they become visible.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Love Comes to Town

I recently got my sermon podcast up to date and thought I would post one of those sermons here. From the fifth Sunday of Easter, focusing on the text from 1 John 4 and John 15. God's love is a transformative action upon us, not just a feeling.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Jesus' Prayer.... Our Prayer?

It was an interesting thought...

As I was preparing for yesterday's sermon, I looked at N.T. Wright's John For Everyone commentary (which by the way is a really wonderful series) and he wrote the following.
This prayer has been used for many centuries by pastors, teachers and other Christian leaders as they pray for those in their care. It can also, with only slight variation, be used by Christians of all sorts for themselves. Substitute 'Jesus' where the prayer says 'I,' and replace 'they' and 'them' with 'I' and 'me,' It is one of the most serious things Jesus ever said. That's why, deep down, it is also among the most joyful and hopeful. Pray it with awe and delight. (John For Everyone, Part 2, pp. 96-97, WJK, 2004)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Stop Trying to Reach Young Adults

Things are hopping and popping (as a former pastor of mine used to say) and I have been not as disciplined in my blogging as I would have liked... but that pause does give some time for thoughts to percolate and congeal a little more coherently (I hope) than otherwise.

I continue to read of The Millennials and their aversion to church, and doctrine and such. It is inevitable that after hearing a presentation on the lives of Millennials, particularly as it connects to their faith lives, the crowd gathered begins to ask "How can we reach these young adults?" And I want to stand up and say something like "STOP TRYING TO REACH YOUNG ADULTS!"

Not, mind you, that I am advocating abandoning them to the world. I am a campus pastor after all. And really a significant portion of them feel abandoned by the church. But more to the point, the language is terrible. The language of reaching invokes a couple of images for me. One is a gnarled old hand extended out of a darkened doorway trying to grab a young passerby and then pulling him or her in. Or trying to grab a drinking glass on the top shelf that is just beyond our fingertips. In both cases the reaching is only done to haul in and possess, obtain something for our use. And I know that we use the language of "reaching someone" as a metaphoric way of speaking about making connections, but even then we seem to mean getting people to see our way. The phrase "reaching" carries with it an implicit notion of a power imbalance where we are imposing something on another.

So I say stop. It reduces our mission ultimately to getting butts in the pew. The language may differ but the thinking is not all that different when we reduce stewardship programs to getting people to open their wallets and not their hearts and minds.

I believe young adults are highly sensitive to being pursued. After all they are... by advertisments and universities and countless others who want them, or more importantly their money. The language of reaching only reinforces the image, I suspect, of churches wanting to possess young adults. I know most folk working with young adults in faith settings mean that, but language is important.

I would wish for a change in language that speaks of engaging young adults, relating to them without any motive of reeling them into the church. I know that sounds counter-intuitive. Isn't that what we are supposed to do? Kinda sorta. I think we are called to share our faith but not as a sales pitch. If we treat it as such, young adults will realize that they are being reeled in and will likely back away. Many of them can smell the trap a mile away. So I think a change is needed.

Can we begin to engage them as them? Can we simply start with them as human beings and find out about them? And maybe as we learn about them, and they likely learn about us, there will be some chance to speak about faith issues. And we have to be ready to let them walk away from it. If we thought about it in investment terms we would see it as a failure. But from a perspective of faith sharing, it is not. In that situation, we might only be planting seeds. Fruit might come out of it but it might not. We can simply trust that God used us.  I won't even dare to promise that by changing this language, we will see more young adults in our churches because I wouldn't want this sort of notion to become a program, delineated with all sorts of procedures and such, which is just more of the same.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How Much Does the Gospel Cost?

Well at least according to one sale, fourteen million dollars. The British Library just bought Europe's oldest book, which happens to be a copy of the gospel according to St. John. The book itself, a smart little volume, written on vellum and bound in a red cover, is known as St. Cuthbert's Gospel because it was buried with Cuthbert 1300 years ago.

TheWorld did a nice piece about it on today's show. What was remarkable to me was the journey of Cuthbert's coffin after his death. You can listen to the piece here.

And the Library has digitized the book and you can view the images here.

I am struck by the importance this book has, and that it is a biblical book. The images are really stunning. The print is phenomenal. But it is at its heart this book is rooted to the arrival of the gospel in Europe.  This book is a testimony to the missional character of Christianity. Will there be anything a millennia from now that tells of our missional impulse?

Monday, April 16, 2012

2nd Sunday of Easter -- Sin is Big, And Jesus is Bigger Yet

We have been convinced that sin is something small and insignificant, making the words from1 John ring hollow. But they remain true because sin is much bigger than we are led to believe. Sin is cosmic and we participate in it even without knowing. But Jesus is bigger even than it for he has conquered it in the resurrection. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How Many Women Does a Man Have to Bed To Be Considered a Real Man?

The question seems to be one many men look to answer thinking quantity matters most. Stumbling upon an interview on another blog, Joffre the Giant, the poet Remy Williams gives another answer. He writes:

We have bought into certain lies that’s are flimsy as our pick-up lines. One of the most absurd is thinking that the more women you sleep with means more sexual skills, that more women equals more experience. Nothing could be further from the truth. Consider the  man who declares his love of cities, all cities and talks about his vast knowledge of cities. He spends the night in a different city one day after the next. He gets off the bus, buys a t-shirt, notches his belt and hops back on the bus. He is suppose to be a grand lover of cities? Rather his is the most worthless of tourists, he’s the doofus in the fannypack mugging in front of every giftshop across the nation. He knows nothing of the city, does not love any city at all, but rather he loves to see his greasy unshaven mug in different settings each  night. The man that says he knows New York City because he was once laid-over there one rainy insignificant night is a great fool. 
So too the lothario, who beds women with tricks and well worn moves. He’s never had to please a woman night after night. He can only pick up women at the watering hole looking to be watered, the lowhanging fruit. A real man knows how to please the woman who’s dealt with screaming kids all day, who went through the day with peanutbutter in her hair, wearing sweatpants and grannypanties because the laundry is stacked to highheaven. A real man can’t rely on a couple of cheap sex tricks to please a woman, running the same two plays on an unsuspecting defense, a real man has to play the same team night after night and the things that worked last night aren’t good enough for today. Real men bed the same woman every night keeping it new and fresh and exciting. Lotharios, in the extremity of their lameness, have so little game they have to move from woman to woman with their smoke, mirrors and hand dancing.

 I like his answer, but is definitely written from a male perspective. Underlying the answer is the assumption that men are men by the sexual conquest even of the one woman with whom he lives.  Here men are men still by being able to have sex with women. Maybe men are real men by realizing that sex is not what defines their existence. I realize that the author of the post was writing specifically about sex, but I think there needs to be more than that. For instance, maybe a real man is the man who realizes that his wife really would rather not have sex at all and he can let it go because his identity is not wrapped up in whether he or not he gets some. His wife is not just there to gratify him. A real man knows that.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Maundy Thursday and Easter Sermons

I am still getting back into recording my sermons and putting them on my podcast. I thought I was already there, but then forgot to check the batteries in my recorder on Good Friday. So I lost that sermon. I did get Maundy Thursday and Easter though...

On Maundy Thursday I looked at our world's desire for certainty and the ambiguity in the word that Paul uses in the words of institution, paradidomi.

On Easter, I touched upon the abundance of hope that the resurrection lets loose in the world.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Narrative Lectionary.. an alternative lectionary experiment

I was just alerted to a new lectionary that was begun by some professors up at Luther Seminary. Rolf Jacobsen and Craig Koester started this four-year alternative lectionary, the so-called Narrative Lectionary, that lead to a proclamation of what God is doing. This lectionary also seems to help recount the grand scope of salvation history. 

I am intrigued. Intrigued enough to consider moving to this lectionary next fall. Of course, I have never done anything really apart from the Revised Common Lectionary. I do wonder, if reading only one lesson, two at most, each week is worth it. I suppose if you attend a congregation that only reads one lesson each week, then a lectionary that tried to cover the scope of salvation history might be worthwhile. If you attend a congregation that reads all four texts appointed for the day, I wonder if it is worth it to give up four years of a broader sampling of biblical readings. If the preacher in those churches would routinely only preach on the gospel lesson anyway, then maybe it doesn't matter.  

The absent books raise an interesting question. No Psalms? No New Testament texts outside of the gospel and some of Paul's letters? Nothing from Revelation. Nothing from Hebrews, the Johannine epistles or the Petrine epistles. The details of the four-year lectionary, that is the appointed texts for each Sunday, can be seen here

While I am still considering this lectionary, particularly for a campus ministry setting where there is a possibility that students are not well acquainted with the biblical narrative, I do wonder if preachers cannot proclaim an active God through the stories appointed in the Revised Common Lectionary, will changing minor details really change the proclamation? 

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Am I a good Lutheran pastor if...

Our house went on the market a couple of weeks ago and almost as soon as I posted a notice on Facebook about it, I began receiving advice about selling. Well... sort of advice. People of various sorts  began telling me to bury St. Joseph in my front yard to help speed the sale of our house. Some simply said to bury him, but others said that Joseph's orientation mattered. Feet toward the house and head toward the street, or the other way around... I don't remember.

The stress of selling a house in a slow economy is somewhat hard to bear, especially when we need this house to sell before we can solidify a bid on a new house. To say my wife and I are anxious is an understatement. With this stress upon us, such house selling advice is tempting. Anything that promises a quick sell without lowering the price has to be good right? We have lost out on one house bid because someone else made another offer that was accepted knocking our contingent offer out from under us. We have another similar offer on another house. Knowing that you need to move but cannot until you sell your house can lead to sleepless nights.

To be honest though, as an aside, the other voices that rise up when something falls through are equally anxiety-invoking. The voices that say "Well it just wasn't meant to be..." as if God has just one perfect house in mind for me and my family and all the others are just pointless. I know they are trying to make me feel better, but just like I am certain that people do not have just one person they are meant to marry, there is not just one house that God wills me to have. This notion that is rather popular with many Christian voices wants to maintain the supremacy of God's will, but I think it misses the point. God wills many things, but what house I buy is not on that list I think. God certainly wants me to be a good steward of the things that are given to me and my family. But there is an inherent freedom in that mix. My faith will indeed help my wife and I decide which house to choose, but if the offer falls through, my faith was not likely insufficient, nor was it necessarily God putting the kibosh on the deal. There will be a place for my family and I to dwell in peace and safety. That I trust.

Now back to the original point, which is still connected to the one I trust. Burying a statue of St. Joseph in the yard, seems to be exactly the sort of thing Luther and the reformers railed against with the cult of the saints. I have a very high view of saints. I routinely commemorate saints, both biblical and extra-biblical, for the particular witness their lives have provided for living out one's faith in Christ. I have routinely responded to the advice on burying St.. Joseph with the phrase, "I have the witness of scripture and the confessions behind me. I will simply trust Jesus." And of course I get puzzled looks. But in the twenty-first article of the Augsburg Confessions, the one dealing with the cult of saints, it reads quite appropriately:
However, it cannot be proved from the Scriptures that we are to invoke saints or seek help from them. "For there is one mediator between God and humans, Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5), who is the only savior, the only high priest, advocate and intercessor before God (Rom. 8:34). He alone has promised to hear our prayers.
It is hard enough selling a house. I don't need to wrestle with this stuff as well. I trust that God will provide a place for us to live. I have to. If not I would obsess and fret and worry. I will simply let God do whatever God is going to do. God will provide. I don't need to use any saint, even one as important as St. Joseph. So I will save the time, money, and effort of burying Joseph.

But just to make sure... check with me in a couple of weeks.

Or if you know someone who is looking for a charming house in a nice neighborhood of Morgantown, WV...

Monday, April 02, 2012

Christ's Death, the end of brokenness

The Lutheran University Center sits on a well-trafficked street, and I pondered how I might engage passers-by during Holy week. After prayer and conversation with trusted friends and colleagues, I decided to build a cross with nails sticking out with a sign upon the top that read:
Christ's death on the cross promises an end to the brokenness of the world. What brokenness do you want to see put to death?

Then I mounted a box with some paper and a marker so people could put down their thoughts and prayers... jabs and snarky jokes as well...

I had no idea how people would respond. I sat and observed people's reactions. Some glance at it as they walk by. I noticed two people stop and discuss it.  Some people in cell phone conversations slow their walk as they pass, clearly pondering it in the midst of their discussion. Some never lift their eyes from the sidewalk. But I hoped that leaving people free to comment or not would free some people to do so. As I pulled into the center this morning, I was not disappointed. Several pieces of paper clung to each nail. Some are meant to be funny... some are serious... one has some drawing on it that I can only guess at what it means.

The one that had me most intrigued was the one that read "People who flaunt their religion in my face." Is that me? Or is it someone else this person knows? I had hoped that with this cross, I would give people freedom to respond or not and if this person meant me, I wonder what compelled him or her to attach this comment. I cannot tell. I do know that in God's Reign, the flaunting of religion will end. I pray for the day when our faith and display of it will be genuinely lived out, and in the meantime I pray that Christians are more aware of the witness they provide to the Crucified one.

I am interested to see how the comments will continue over this week. They will form much of my prayer life as we enter into the days of God's saving mystery that promises to end the brokenness of the world?

What brokenness do you want to see put to death?

Monday, February 06, 2012

Jumping on a Moving Train

That is a little like how it has felt over the past month. Starting the new call at the Lutheran University Center. Getting here, getting situated, getting oriented, getting moved out (of my old office) and moved in (to my new office)... all of it has been a little crazy. Throw in organizing my installation, a grand and lovely event thanks to the efforts of many others, as well as family transition issues... it is no wonder my output on my blog and podcast has dropped. I have even wondered about closing down this blog and starting a new one since I am no longer a pastor of a congregation. But I think I will leave its name alone.

I am hoping that my writing continues and picks up as things reach a steady state, or at least as steady as they can in campus ministry.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Ministry and Incarnation

The past month has been incredibly hectic.  As I wrote a few weeks ago, I am starting a new call.  December was busier as I  tried to get everything in order before I had finished as pastor.  As if getting ready for Christmas wasn't enough, I also was making sure the parish record was in order and all that sort of stuff.  Then there were the people who really wanted me to do one or another pastoral task before I left...

So during December, I had three baptisms and five First Communions... not to mention two memorial services. Granted those folks didn't arrange this task with me when I announced I was leaving... but it was just extra stuff.  At any rate, I do not think I have had such a cramped month in my eight plus years serving St. Paul. 

There was a part of me that wondered if I was doing something wrong by acquiescing to these requests.  After all, there was no need to rush.  A perfectly competent pastor would be serving as an interim after I left.  There was nothing special about me doing it.  Performing the baptisms or instructing the First Communicants did not require me.  There was a part of me that worried about creating inappropriate expectations about pastors. 

But then my last Sunday came.  That Sunday was Christmas day. I was emotional from the get-go.  I climbed into the pulpit to set up my recorder and manuscript.  As I went up the steps, I realized that this day was the last day I would climb into the pulpit as pastor.  During the announcements, when I asked the small crowd to bear with me if I got emotional, I teared up.  Once the liturgy got going I was fine.  While there are many who decry the liturgy, I find great comfort in it.  This day the familiarity acted like a friend walking with me through grief.  I didn't shed one tear as I preached and we sang and prayed together.  Until we came to the Eucharist, of course.  There I saw the families whom I would not commune again as pastor.  I would not stand again behind that rail to proclaim gracious gospel words "The Body of Christ given for you." When it came time for me to commune with the worship assistant and acolytes, tears could not be held back any longer.  I sobbed.

Body and blood met me graciously.  I wanted to do nothing but cling to them as long as I could, knowing the service would all too soon after that meal.  And at some point my mind, in its emotional state, made a connection between the incarnation and ministry. God the Father didn't just use an ephemeral spirit when humanity needed saving.  God sent Jesus to dwell in flesh, to live with us as one of us.  God doesn't use some disembodied persona to serve congregations either.  As imperfect as we are, pastors are flesh and blood creatures who form deep and abiding relationships with the people in our congregations. 

Pastoral ministry is inherently incarnational. The people whom I served wanted me to do those last few pastoral tasks not because I was somehow special. They wanted me to do those tasks, baptizing and communing them because I was a particular embodiment of the gospel for them.  I was the one they had to come to know who spoke the gospel.  It was not mere sentimentality that had them wanting me to do these things before I left.  The pastor builds a relationship with the people over the years of service, and this relationship is rooted in the relationship that Christ forms with us in the incarnation.

While it was a challenge for me, and no service would have been easy as my last, I found that Christmas was an incredibly appropriate day as my last.  I am thankful for my time at St. Paul and the relationships we shared there.  I am also thankful for the relationship begun in and by Christ that is an embodied relationship because he was incarnate.