The Names they are a-changin’

I’ve been thinking about names a lot lately. Not only because I’ve finally gotten the paperwork to make my own name change legal, but because we’ve just entered the wilderness of Lent with Jesus after his Baptism, where God called him “Beloved” and then the Accuser (‘ha-Satan’ in the Hebrew) questions him three times on it. “IF you ARE the Son of God,” Satan cajoles. “IF,” to call into question his identity, his relationship to God, his purpose and very existence. We get that same question, that same nagging all the time from all around us, don’t we?

“IF you really love me,” says the codependent or abusive lover.
“IF you really want to be happy,” says the marketing establishment.
“IF you really are a patriot,” says every political party throwing mud.
“IF you really are a Christian,” says the radio, the bullhorn preacher, the irritated family member who sees things differently than we do.

But we like recognition and encouragement and legitimacy for our self-concept. I know who I am, yet there is something comforting in having official legal paperwork to show for it, a driver’s license with my proper name, even though that means I’ve had to let go of the name I was given when I was born.Bible-Names
The real reason I’m thinking about names today is that I was reading through the First Testament lesson for the coming Sunday, from Genesis, and it’s a story about God and Abram. ABRAM, not AbraHam. That’s important. It marks a time in the man’s life before this eternal covenant was made official, and his new name, when God gives it to him, marks a complete world shift in his sense of place and purpose in the world.
God is all over the place changing people’s names. So are the kings of the day. Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednigo weren’t given those names by their families but by Nebuchadnezzar, the king who conquered their land. Naming is a way of exercising power, of defining a person, of erasing a past and starting a new future in the case of cultural assimilation. Consider how Ellis Island erased people’s history when they stepped off the ships, or remember how important it was for Kunta Kinte to know his name. In Scripture, children were named for their parents’ experiences of God or life at the time of their birth. Lands and places were given names according to major events that took place. Jesus called Simon and renamed him Peter. Saul became Paul. And exiles and foreigners became family.slc_child_of_god
Maybe Lent is just another season for you, or maybe it is full of memories of fish fries and giving up chocolate. Perhaps it’s a time you take for some retreat or creative practice as winter drags on and we pray for Spring. Historically, Lent is a time to remember our name, the name given to us in our Baptism, the name “Child of God,” “Beloved,” “Mine,” which God gives to you by the power of the Triune Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Lent leads on toward Palm Sunday, the Passion and the cross of Good Friday, remember that this name, this relationship, this covenant, is stronger than death, and it will carry us through Good Friday and on to Easter, where we also learn the meaning of the name “Unafraid.”

So now we move forward, from “IF” to “BECAUSE.”
“BECAUSE” you are a Child of God
“BECAUSE” you belong
“BECAUSE” you are loved
“BEACUSE” you will not stay dead forever anymore
“BECAUSE,” God says, “you are My Beloved.”

Shalom,
Pastor Nelson

Blessed Lent

“You shall be called ‘repairer of streets to live in.’…” Isaiah 58.

Did you see the music video for Beyoncé’s song “Formation”? Do you remember Hurricane Katrina? Or how about your history lessons, do you remember learning about the Reconstruction Era? Black History Month falls across some of the season of Lent most years, and as a country we have a lot to learn, a lot to repent, a lot to work on when it comes to addressing racism. We have this reading from Isaiah 58 to start Lent with, as our first reading on Ash Wednesday, written to a people who were being returned to their ancestral home after years of exile, written to a people trying to rebuild the ‘good old days’ but not knowing how to integrate those left behind by the war and those resulting from intermarriage and all of their own pride about purity. Rebuilding after war never looks like life before war. If you want to see how challenging resurrection is, consider how completely different a world looks after a war is over and the flowers start to grow again.

beyonce

We’re just on tiptoe starting down into the valley of Lent. What in the world is “Lent”? Who’s lending what to whom, now? Forty days of preparation for Easter, is what it is. Not that we can ever be fully ‘ready’ for Easter. Resurrection, like death, is something that sort of just takes us by surprise, shifts the world under our feet, turns our expectations all widdershins and sets us slightly off balance. The only thing is, we’ve been off-balance for so long we wouldn’t know how to adjust to things running at their optimal slowness, most lively, deepest richness. We can only handle so much newness in our regular routine, no matter how healthy or unhealthy that routine is, as the saying goes “better the devil you know…” right?

lent

Being rebuilt means starting from brokenness. It means taking apart and reorganizing, throwing away and reevaluating, repurposing and clarifying. It’s hard work, but the season of Lent offers us a season for just that purpose, rolling up our sleeves, or perhaps doing the hard work of letting go so that someone else can remind us we aren’t the rugged individualists we would like to be.

One simple tool, since this is a place for sharing ideas as well as for information, is called by many names, but takes place around the family dinner table. Or the friendly coffee table. Wherever we are in community throughout the week, even over lunch at work, we can do this work of Lent rebuilding. It’s returning to the building blocks of our faith community, this simple tool. It starts with sharing highs and lows with each other from the day, asking about where we have encountered God or been reminded to pray, sitting with a few verses of Scripture (we do print all the Sunday readings in the bulletin, you can take them home and find them easily after worship) just to listen for words and themes that speak to us for the day, and praying with one another. We promise often to pray for one another, but how often do we stop where we are and actually do it in the moment? Even to spend a breath or two in silence together, with a longing for God to rebuild and renew our hearts, simple, together, is faith-building work. I invite you to try this when you next share a meal with family or friends (or even co-workers, if you have a long enough lunch break).

hurrican-katrina-hero-HGod is working on us, working with us, working through us, to rebuild the world. Resurrection work is ongoing, deep and complete and as real as death. More real, even, since the power of death has been broken by the reality of Easter. This is where we are going, what we are preparing for. Blessings on your Lenten journey, friends.

bourbon-street-mardi-gras

Shalom,

Pastor Nelson

Every so often I joke with my friends about just re-reading the Scripture text assigned for a Sunday, in place of writing a sermon. It’s not that I don’t want to preach. Far from it. I love preaching, the craft of putting together and preaching a word about the Word is one of my most cherished prayer practices. Every sentence requires me to consider what I really, truly believe, what I really, truly know about life and trust about God.

But sometimes, there are texts that are so brimful to overflowing with nearly tangible Grace upon grace, that I just want to soak in them for awhile, like bathing in lotion after a particularly dry winter day. This Sunday’s Isaiah text is one of those:

 

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

 jacob

I remember when I was in college, just back from winter break, and this was the text on which hung the theme of God moving on the waters, the theme for the week of chapel. It was a theme chosen months ahead of time. It was a timely theme, almost painfully so, because that was the winter of a massive tsunami which wiped out so many lives in Southeast Asia. We were eager, as college students, to remain aware of the world, connected to its suffering in ways we could do something about, but this was tremendous, out of our control, out of our capacity to save. So we looked at these Scriptures about water and promises of deliverance, and of course that age-old question came up: Where was God when this happened?

 

If Truth is only true when life is comfortable, is it really Truth, or is it only a nicety? We wrestled, we prayed, we grieved for destruction and lives lost, even though we had no personal connections on those devastated shores. Then we looked again at the promises of God, at the Scriptures we had found ourselves in for the week following those storms. Where was God? We were all set to proclaim that God was in the life-giving waters of Baptism, all set to give the easy answer we had been taught in Sunday School and Confirmation class, but this was just too much to consider in the middle of all that pain. Except…

 

Except it was still true. IS still true. God was in those waters. God IS in the waters. The Truth of God’s promise and presence and faithfulness does not slip away that easily when the powers of heaven and earth seem to rupture all around us. Shorelines wash away. Trees are uprooted. God’s promise and presence and faithfulness remains. It is our grounding, our foundation, our salvation and deliverance. Where was God in the storms? In them. God was with those who suffered and died and were lost to us; they were lost to us but never lost to God. Perhaps we get this confused because our vision of God is too Hallmark, too fluffy, too small. If it truly is God with us in the waters, we should shudder every time we remember our Baptism, shake with awe and holy terror at the possibilities of the meaning of this God’s claim on us.

 

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Pastor Nelson

Proclamation of the Birth of Christ

Today, the twenty-fifth day of December,
unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth
and then formed man and woman in his own image.

Several thousand years after the flood,
when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.

Rainbow_1574
Double rainbow forming on the western outskirts of Innerleithen, Scottish Borders

Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;
thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.

Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;
in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.

The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

–Pastor Andrew Nelson

 

An Open Letter to the Muslim American Community

Office of the Presiding Bishop
 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
 God’s work. Our hands.
(to be sent to ISNA, and the National Christian-Muslim Initiative)December 11, 2015

Dear Muslim Sisters and Brothers,

Grace and peace to you. I am writing on behalf of many Christians in this country who wish to share a word of solidarity, love, and hope with you in these difficult days.

In this season of Advent, we, your Christian neighbors, are preparing to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who commanded that “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart… [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31, NRSV).loveThyNeighbor

In our love for you, our neighbors, we are distressed by the ways in which you are being forced to bear the fears held by many in our nation. Therefore, we renew our commitment to find even more effective ways to protect and defend you from words and actions which assault your safety and well-being. We believe God calls us to resist what is divisive, discriminatory, xenophobic, racist, or violent, and we want you to look to us as allies and friends.

The global refugee and migrant crisis and the acts of terror committed in this country and around the world are challenges that demand our collective efforts, and our common prayers. Therefore, we will seek to stand shoulder to shoulder with you as agents of peace, justice, understanding, welcome, and reconciliation, for the sake of the world that God so loves.

creationHands

In this holy season, when we anticipate the light that the darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5, NRSV), we are reminded of God’s gift of life abundant for all. Together with you, we are committed to building a stronger society based on the dignity of each human being, the value of diversity, the holiness of creation, and the common good. We pledge our partnership, and invite our local communities into continued dialogue and engagement to this end.

In peace,
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Further signed by
Liz Macris, RN, Parish Nurse, St Timothy’s
Jo Page, Int’l Interim Pastor, St John’s Lutheran Church, Albany
Rev. Dr. Rahel L.C. Hahn
Rev. Gregory A. Tennermann, Athens
Duane Keeler, Conference Deacon
Mary Rainey, Deacon, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Scotia
Rev. Alison Leitzel, First Lutheran Church, Albany
Rev. Andrew T Nelson, Christ our Emmanuel Luth’n Church, Chatham
Jacquelyn Menagh, Council V P, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Oak Hill
Rev. Lauretta Dietrich, Zion Luth’n , Athens/St Paul’s Luth’n, Oak Hill
Pastor Vernon A. Victorson, ELCA, Retired
Jacqueline Jefferson, Deacon, So. Columbia County Luth’n Parish
Richard Rieger, Pastor Emeritus, St Andrew Luth’n, Gansevoort
The Rev. F. Charles Schwartz, ELCA Pastor, Retired
Rev. Dr. Dennis R. Meyer, ELCA Pastor, Retired
Rev. David W. Preisinger, Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit, Albany
Rev. Dustin Wright, Pastor, Evang’c Luth’n of Messiah, Schenectady
Pastor Amber Waugaman, Prince of Peace Luth’n Church, Clifton Pk
Rev. Jeff Silvernail, Sr Pastor,Prince of Peace Luth’n Church,Clifton Pk
Rev. Paul Rees-Rohrbacher, ELCA Pastor, Retired
Rev. Deron Milleville, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Glenville
Rev. Jim Hulihan, ELCA Pastor, Retired

Advent

One of the jobs of a part-time pastor in a small parish is worship planning, which can include writing prayers, picking the hymns, sometimes putting the bulletin together (although we have the amazing Sharon Smith taking care of bulletins for four congregations in our local Lutheran cluster!). In preparation for the addition of a 7pm Christmas Eve service, and trying to get ahead on the hymn choices for a few weeks, I’ve been paging through our latest greatest Lutheran hymnal (Evangelical Lutheran Worship), specifically the “Advent” section. We skip so quickly on to Christmas music that we miss the beauty and the longing of Advent hymnody. A lot of minor keys, as in Lent, and a lot of themes of waiting and hoping and buckets of sadness that the world is so broken. It goes well with the time of year, days getting shorter, nights getting darker, slowing down and reflecting on broken things that need time and space to heal.

adventCandles

As I was paging through, I came across what is quickly becoming one of my new favorite Advent hymns: Each Winter As the Year Grows Older. It’s written lyrically by William Gay, born in 1920, and musically by Annabeth Gay, born in 1925. Contemporary music, born in the hearts of people born during the depression, and I’ll just write out below the first three of five verses from our hymnal:

1. Each winter as the year grows older,
we each grow older, too.
The chill sets in a little colder;
there verities we knew
seem shaken and untrue.
2. When race and class cry out for treason,
when sirens call for war,
they overshoot the voice of reason
and scream till we ignore
all we held dear before.
3. Yet I believe beyond believing
that life can spring from death,
that growth can flower from our grieving,
that we can catch our breath
and turn transfixed by faith.

Aptly, the name of the melody is “Carol of Hope.” It sings to so much of the present moment. I want to sing that third verse backed up by trumpets and timpani’s, it is so sorely needed. This is the time of year when our faith needs to be defiant, held up against the darkness of the weather and the news. It’s the time of year when God’s stubborn love makes me think of a 2-year-old kid throwing a tantrum against the power of every lie that would convince us we aren’t good enough to be loved.

Peace to you this Advent season. Keep hoping. Keep waiting. Winter is coming, but winter won’t last forever. Jesus is coming, and Jesus IS forever.

Happy New Year Potluck

I was listening to a radio interview with a Rabbi (Jesus was also a Rabbi, so it seemed good to listen to some other folks in his line of work), and heard something I’d known for ages but hadn’t connected with: Passover is celebrated in the home. The meal is a family event, with mother lighting the candles and the youngest child asking the questions, and this is the way they tell the, THE, massively most important story of their faith. Not in the synagogue, but at home, around the dinner table. Granted, there is a tradition of Sabbath dinners every weekend (how often do we sit down with our families -without our phones or the television as distraction- for a meal anymore?), but this central identifying story isn’t something left only to the synagogue to tell. It’s a story told at home, shared within the family. Shrinking congregations worry so much about filling the pews Sunday mornings, but what about encouraging what goes on at home? How do we strengthen families, with their busy schedules, to share holy time in their everyday time together? Surely God doesn’t wait until we’re gathered in the Sanctuary to speak to us words of forgiveness and grace.

potluck-imageSo Sunday, this first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the new church year, we will gather around shared dinner tables for a potluck with prayer and Story telling. Instead of 10am liturgy (take your time driving home after Thanksgiving) our liturgy will be at 4pm in the fellowship hall downstairs (and our lift runs smoothly from the outside of the building to take you downstairs). We will gather and light candles, we will notice where we have noticed God lately, we will listen for God in the Scriptures and in each other, we will pray, we will sing, we will break bread and bless and be encouraged for the coming winter. Perhaps in this practice we will even find ways to shape our home dinner conversations, with our partners and our children and our neighbors, toward remembering who we are and the love to whom we belong. It’s a great experiment we take on together. So far it’s just the one Sunday night we’ve got planned for this sort of gathering, but perhaps with a little conversation we can see what works best for future alternative gathering times and styles. Come with your hunger and your curiosity and your imagination, and let’s explore where the Spirit will lead us while She feeds us in fellowship and Eucharist.

 

Shalom,

Pastor Nelson

Seeking & serving with hope, love and faith in Chatham, New York