Monday, August 15, 2016

Women's Power in Preaching and Ministry - Guest Sermon by Elise Kohler

August 14, 2016
Schwarzwald Lutheran Church in Reading, PA
Texts: First Reading: Luke 1:46-55; Second Reading: Acts 16:13-15; Gospel: John 20:11-18

Elise Kohler, TEY Scholar, budding preacher!
[I met Elise Kohler at a summer program for young theologians called Theological Education with Youth (TEY) held at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (PA), where I served as one of the faculty in the Lilly Endowment-funded program.  Elise is entering her junior year at Exeter Township Senior High School in Reading, PA.  She’s involved with Fellowship of Christian Students, orchestra, concert, jazz band and marching band, and Girl Scouts.  She and her brother Lukas, along with their parents Stephanie and James Kohler, are members of Schwarzwald Lutheran Church in Reading.  Elise is a member of the Mutual Ministry Committee, Youth group, Youth ministry committee, choir, and Sunday School.   

Elise was one of 18 scholars who spent nine days delving into deep theological discussions and developing leadership skills.  This was her second year attending the program, and upon her return home, her pastor asked her to preach a sermon about “women’s power in preaching and ministry.”  Elise and I brainstormed about women in the Bible who model the kind of leadership qualities that are important to her and we worked on crafting her sermon.  Below is her fine sermon – just one example of what is possible when we train young people to think theologically, equip them with the skills needed to proclaim the gospel, and set them loose!]

 [Watch the video of Elise's sermon here:

When Pastor Staub asked me to do a sermon about women’s power in preaching and ministry, I said yes immediately- even though the idea of speaking in front of the whole church was a bit intimidating!  There are so many powerful women in the Bible, it was difficult to choose just a few.  I decided to focus on a few women in the New Testament - ones who used their God-given gifts and skills to help proclaim the Good News about Jesus Christ.  Studying these women the past few weeks has opened my eyes to how strong they were.  As you will see, these women are a huge inspiration to me.  My hope is that you will find something in their story - and maybe even my story - that rekindles your own faith and a desire to act on that faith in a powerful way.

One of the reasons I was so excited to preach on this topic of powerful women of faith and their impact, is that two weeks ago I was a scholar at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg for a summer program called Theological Education with Youth.  For nine days, 17 other high school students from around the country and myself gathered to worship, learn deep theological concepts, develop leadership skills, and living in a safe and intentional Christian community.  Of course this also included just hanging out and having fun.

It just so happened that during our theology courses some of what we learned about was women’s power, ecofeminism, and how the world views women.  In the past often times women were thought of as lesser than men.  In the chain of command they were viewed on the same level as an animal.  Obviously the view of women is still changing.  We learned how important it is to look to the Bible and examine the strong women throughout the stories.  Through all of the years God has used not only men but women and children too.  We also learned that oftentimes women are viewed as the “mothers” and the “care takers.”  We also learned about how different parts of nature are feminized, such as “mother nature”, or the “mama bird.”  We discussed the importance of being aware of and having an opinion on how girls and women are viewed in society.

The three readings for today give us just a few examples of the ways in which God calls women of faith to use their skills, gifts, bodies and minds to proclaim the Good News of Christ and build the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ mother Mary, for example, proclaimed that kingdom which was just a seed of hope planted in her womb.  Her Magnificat which we heard today is a bold declaration that God is continually reforming our world and righting the wrongs of injustice.

Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ disciples and sat at his feet to learn – just like the men did.  I think it’s amazing that it was Mary who was the first to proclaim the risen Christ.  That means that the first preacher was a woman!

But she certainly wasn’t the last.  Lydia was another powerful woman who used her influence to bring people to Christ.  She was a successful business woman who sold purple fabric to wealthy clients for their expensive clothes.  When she met Paul at the river, she convinced him to stay at her home, and her whole family was baptized.  God was calling to her through Paul, just like God called to Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus.

In my life there have been many instances when I have felt God calling me in some direction. I believe that there are no such things as coincidences in life.  We are all living the lives that God set us out to live.  I also believe in an inner sense of calling. Whether it’s getting a good feeling when you talk to someone, or that idea that just seemed to “pop” into your head out of nowhere and you can’t get it to go away.  Everyone has that little voice.  That voice is usually God.  In my own life I’ve found not to ignore that voice.

For example, this past year I considered joining a group called Fellowship of Christian Students at my school.  The only problem was every time they had a meeting I came up with an excuse not to go.  “It’s too early, I have to talk to a teacher, I have to finish my homework.”  The truth was, I was avoiding it.  I didn’t want to be looked at as that girl from the church club.  Finally one day I sucked it up and went.  I had been hearing about it and seeing posters for it, I felt the overwhelming call to go.

In a way it was like when Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit and the Christ child grew in her. The seed of something new being planted.  The idea was small at first but it just grew until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.  When God plants something in you it’s impossible to get it out of your head.  It’s constantly on your mind, until it gets to a point when you have to do something about it. So I went to the meeting.

I got there and there were only two other people.  After attending the next few meetings I watched those two people turn into one.  Then it was just me.  I started thinking about what changes could be made to the club to make it more inviting. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Just like Lydia, I knew it was important to reach out to other people with the amazing news about Jesus’s love.  She learned about Jesus from listening to Paul.  I, along with many others, have learned about Jesus right here at this church listening to sermons, going to Sunday School and Confirmation, going to VBS, and helping and participating in youth events.  Going to TEY took my learning to a new level.  God had already prepared Lydia to be a proclaimer of the Gospel when she when she met Paul at the river.  Looking back I can see that God was already preparing me as well.

It happened the day the teacher in charge asked if I would lead the club.  I said yes and asked a friend for help.  We both co-lead the club now.  There are about 10 members and it’s still growing.

But it wasn’t easy.  We had to plan meetings that sparked people’s interest, and fit their schedules.  We had to find a place in the school to meet.  We had to continue to push events, and there were a few failed ones along the way.  Overall, the trials were all worth it.  It wasn’t until our very last meeting that we finally had about ten people show up.  Everyone said they were excited for next year.

Just like Mary Magdalene learned, being the first apostle to spread the news of Jesus’ resurrection is sometimes met with resistance, ridicule and downright hostility.  But when God calls you to preach, sometimes you have to go against the grain to deliver the powerful message to God’s people.

My point in this is, God calls everyone, men, women, children.  God calls everyone, but you have to listen and accept the call! Where is God calling you?
          You might be like Mary, Jesus’ mother, and you have an idea for ministry that is planted in you.  How will you nurture the idea so it can grow?

          Or maybe you’re like Mary Magdalene at the tomb and you’re being called to spread the good news about Jesus, but you worry about how people might react.  How will you find the courage to share the Good News which might be just the thing someone needs to hear in their lives?

          Or maybe you’re called like Lydia, the seller of purple cloth.  Has God given you a network of people, or a set of skills, or a particular talent that is just right for reaching out to people to do the work of building the Kingdom of God?  Who is that one person you can ask for help, like I did, to help you take on a project that you may have thought too big for you to handle?

          These powerful women of faith are can be seen as models for us of what can be done when we open ourselves to God’s power and use our minds bodies, talents, skills and resources to proclaim Jesus Christ and build ministry in his name.  These women (along with many others) have been extremely influential on me and my life and choices.  My prayer for you is that a seed has been planted, or you've formed an idea, or a spark of faith has been kindled that will not let you go.  Listen to that little voice that’s telling you to go and do.  Amen.
TEY 2016 Scholars, faculty and staff

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Labyrinth – Meditation on a Field Before Baling

An Ecotheological Poem 
by Leah D. Schade
(All photos by Leah D. Schade)

I passed the freshly mown hay field
to look from afar with dry gravel safely under my feet.

the way between the windrows
I stepped into the dew-bathed grass,
my feet baptized by morning droplets.

The crows called from the tree,
 and when I looked back,
what I had not seen
was revealed.

The farmer could not have known
that he had created
a labyrinth –

sacred space in which I could walk
into my interiority
within the great expanse of this field
under dawn’s moon.
Long strands of grass brushed my feet
like the fragrant hair of the woman anointing the Teacher.
Who am I to receive such extravagance?
my Pharisee demands.
But I follow the Teacher’s lead and
lean down to thread my fingers through her hair
bringing her sweet scent to my nose
and breathing deeply.

on the gravel path,
the itchy tickle on my leg reveals a tress of green
still clinging.
Did Jesus discover entwined to the hairs of his leg
one wisp still
the decadent aroma of sin

Questions to consider:  
When has Creation graced you with a gift beyond measure?
What is the sacramental nature of the other-than-human world?
How does the Divine work through nature to communicate something important to you?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Farewell Sermon for United in Christ, Pastor Leah Schade

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
July 17, 2016

[You can watch a video of the sermon here:]

“Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes.  I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again.”

That’s a line from a Billy Joel song that has been playing in my head over the past five months.  Earlier this year I received the phone call that I was being offered a position at Lexington Theological Seminary in Lexington, KY, astheir new Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship.  And as happy as that made me, it also meant that I had to begin saying goodbye to all of you.  There is a time for everything, the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us.  Now is the time to say goodbye.

I wish I would have had more time. I would have loved to help shepherd our Confirmation students through the end of their program and help them plan their Affirmation of Baptism service next year.

I wish I could be here to watch the babies I baptized sitting on their parent’s laps in worship, 

and see them go into Sunday School, to teach them about their First Communion, teach them silly games like Will You Be My Cupcake in youth group, and plan more amazing services like Good Friday 

and Holy Humor Sunday.

  I wish I could be here to help the youth plan for the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston. 

 I wish I could be here to see all the new folks who keep coming to our OAKs Monthly Senior Center;

 to see the faces of those we serve through the meals and the service projects and the Rich Huff Fund. I wish I could be here to see what other new ministries this congregation will dream up with the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

I wish I could be here for the meetings . . . no, really!  I know most people dislike meetings, and I do admit that it will be nice to have my evenings free for my family.  But meetings are where ministry happens.  I liked being with a group of people committed to a certain area of church life and mission, being of like mind, brainstorming different ideas, checking in on where things are, planning what will happen next.   Many pastors dread meetings, but I can honestly say that I always looked forward to them.  Any pastor would be grateful to have a Council that has been this high-functioning and fun to work with!  

And what a blessing it has been to serve with our staff – Frank and now Terry as our sexton; 

Glen and now Marilyn as our organist; 
Ben and now Terri as our office administrator.  

We really enjoy each other and can share laughter as well as our frustrations in life and work.  To quote another Billy Joel song, “This is the time to remember, ‘cause it will not last forever.”

I wish my children could be here to continue on their faith journey.  I wish Benjamin could be playing the drums and Rachel singing in the House Band.  Benjamin has asked me to tell you:  “I will miss every single one of you,” and to “continue your journey in this church.  Remember the way of life in Jesus,” he said.

And Rachel wanted me to share this with you:  “Thank you for being so welcoming and supporting our family so much.  I’ll never forget how generous you were in supporting the youth to grow in their ministry.  I hope you’ll continue to do that with the next pastor.”

Both Jim and I have been so appreciative of the care you have shown to our family.  And I have to tell you that it has been my husband who has enabled me to do this ministry.  He has made so many sacrifices so that I could answer the call to ministry, serve in this church, and now follow a new call to the ministry of education.  Many of God’s most faithful servants labor behind the scenes where no one notices their dedication and hard work.  Jim is one of those servants.  There wouldn’t be a Pastor Schade without a Husband Jim, a Daddy Schade, and I give thanks to God every day for keeping our marriage strong and healthy through this very demanding time in our lives.

He, also, wanted me to express to you that he was amazed at how fast it worked out for us to come here five years ago – like it was meant to be.  “You took care of us for five years.  Out of all the churches I’ve been a part of, this one feels the most like family,” he said.  “No matter what challenges this congregation faced, everyone always came together.  And . . . I love all the great food!” 

In preparation for this moment of leave-taking, I’ve tried to be open to the Spirit’s guidance for having a grace-filled end to this pastoral relationship so that both of us, as the pastor and parishioners, can learn from and affirm our journeys together.  It’s been a time for us to have full closure so that we can each enter into the next chapter of our respective journeys.  Saying goodbyes are important because as we experience the alternating waves of sadness, exhilaration, uncertainty, and vulnerability, it also opens us up to experience the grace of God through Jesus Christ in a new way.
Saying good-bye to Elwood Brown. Photo by Dan Hyde
 Because no one knew better what it means to say goodbye than Jesus.  This text that I read from the Gospel of John is the prayer that Jesus prayed to God on behalf of his disciples on the night before he would be taken from them.  This is the gospel reading I had for my ordination service – nearly sixteen years ago.  At the time I read it as an inauguration prayer, and it worked well.  But I return to this text now with different eyes, at a different stage in my life and ministry.   And as I read this passage, three Greek words stand out for me:  heis, apostello, agape – the word for “one”, the word for “sent,” and the word for “love.”

It was love that brought them together.  God’s love for Jesus, Jesus’ and his disciples’ love for each other, and God’s love for the whole world.  Love is what enabled Jesus and his disciples to carry out their amazing, miraculous ministry, the likes of which the world had never before seen.  But it was also love that led Jesus to make the ultimate sacrifice and show these disciples and all who hear the story, that God’s love is stronger than all evil, all violence, all death. 

We, too, bear witness to that miraculous, sacrificial love in the ministry that we have carried out over these years.  It was love that brought me to this congregation.  It is our mutual love of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, which has bonded us to each other in these past five years.  And it is God’s love of Creation – and the need to protect and preserve that Creation – that has been such a powerful force in my life.  
Academic graduation robe given as a gift by the congregation of United in Christ.
That force of love lead me to pursue my doctoral degree and to discover how preaching and caring for God’s Creation can be integrated, like a tree with deep roots drawing up clean water from the soil.  I have been so grateful that you as a congregation have been patient and tolerant of my academic work, as well as my advocacy and activism for the land, this air, this river, this earth we call home.
Preaching about climate disruption as the character of the Holy Spirit.
I said back on Easter Sunday, that there’s no place like home – you don’t need to look any further than the pew in front of or behind you to find the love of God you’ve been looking for.  The Susquehanna Valley and United in Christ have been home for us.  The people who I’ve come to know in this community through my work to protect against shale gas drilling, and with the Tire Burner, and many other causes – I have learned so much from them and made important friendships in this place we’ve called home.

And here at United in Christ, I knew we were home from the moment Cami met us in the parking lot and directed us to the kitchen entrance instead of the front door.  “We’re like family here – everyone uses the back door!”

I will never forget the kindnesses you showed to us in our own home.  Bob and Sue, Bob and Carol bringing us a platter of food and groceries on the day we moved in so we wouldn’t have to worry about cooking a meal for days!  Frank helping Jim to fix the garage door.  And the two Bobs hanging swings on the pin oak tree in the yard so our children could swing and swing to their hearts’ content.

You have welcomed me into your own homes as your pastor.  Sometimes the visits were convivial and comfortable, sharing a sip of wine and a bit of bread for home communion.  Sometimes the visits were solemn and sad in the days leading up and then after a loved one’s death.  Sometimes the visits were tense and touched with anger.  But that’s what happens in family – every emotion comes to the fore at some point.  This is one of the most honest and authentic groups of people I have ever met.  When we had problems to work out or difficult things to discuss, you trusted me enough to be forthright with your feelings so that we could find a way through and allow our mutual commitment to ministry be the thing that really mattered.  And through it all, God’s spirit of love, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, curiosity and utter joy have been guiding this church family.

But as often happens in families, there comes a time when we have to say good-bye.  Today is that day.
Framed poem from the congregation presented by Council President Bob Swartz.  Photo by Lisa Rabuck.
But we do not say good-bye to the love.  Because it is love that sent each disciple out into the world to share the news of this love of God. In Greek, the word is “apostello.”  It’s the root of the word “apostles” - the sent ones.  We, too, are being sent out.  You will continue to be sent out to your neighbors, your co-workers, your family members, friends, your hairdresser, your buddy at work, anyone who hungers to experience this life-changing love of God through Jesus Christ.  I am being sent to train future pastors to preach and lead worship creatively and with conviction, helping congregations to do the kinds of ministry we have done here. We are all being sent to share what we have learned in this Bible, what we have experienced through our agape-love, what we have witnessed God being able to do through our ministry together.

Which is why Jesus reminds them that even though they will be separated by time, distance and the inevitability of change, they will still be united by being one in God.  This is what will happen with us.  After the tears have dried and the dust has settled, I have no doubt that God will enable us to experience the oneness in God, even when the rest of the world around us feels fractured, scattered and lost.  When we are reading the Bible, living and enacting our agape-love, baptizing another saint into the family, and gathering at this table, we are one with Christ – truly United in Christ. We will continue to see God at work in us and through us to make Christ known, share our love, be one in each other and in God, and sent out to the world to share.

For me, it will be at the communion table when I remember this oneness most vividly.  When I come to the table, no matter where I am, I will be joining all of you at your table, no matter how separated we are by time or space.  I will be remembering all the times when we shared this meal together.  Especially today, my last time to do this with you as your pastor.  I think that time will be the most difficult part of this day for me, handing the bread to each of you, the bread of Christ’s body which he handed to his disciples in their final meal together.  Those words, “For you,” may be drenched in tears, but you’ll know that I speak them with Christ’s love for you in my heart.

As intentional as I’ve tried to be about the closure of my ministry, it still did not happen as I had wished.  There were so many people I wished I could have visited.  I wish I could have had the time to write a note or a card to the countless individuals who have touched my ministry and my life and my family.  I wanted to be able to say, “Thank You,” in a much more personal way.

I can only hope and pray that you will each understand how greatly I have appreciated and admired your faith, your dedication, your caring, and your willingness to engage in the Christian life with me and my family.  I am so proud of you - what you do for each other, what you do for your own individual faith journeys, what you do for our surrounding community, and what you do for people you don’t even know halfway around the world.  I will be bragging about this congregation for the rest of my life, giving thanks to God for inspiring you to the great ministry I know you’ll continue in the future.  I’ll be lifting you up in prayer, and holding you up as an example of what is possible when a gathering of Christians steps forward and says, “Here I Am, Lord.” 


Friday, July 8, 2016

Whitefolks Anonymous: We need to talk

The conversation about white privilege, racism and white supremacy has to start somewhere. 

The thing that we cannot talk about is the thing we MUST talk about.  It will be embarrassing.  It will make the heat rise up under your collar and your white cheeks flush with emotion – anger, shame, recognition.  But unless we acknowledge the problem and bring air and light to this festering infection, committing ourselves to treatment and healing, this sickness is going to kill us.  It already is.  Hundreds of black people gunned down by police officers is just the beginning unless we take steps NOW to acknowledge our complicity with a system that, granted, we did not create, but for which we are held accountable.  Because it is on the verge of catastrophic eruption.

In order for me to move the conversation forward, I need to share what part I play in this country’s racism and white supremacy.  This is not blackfolks’ responsibility.  It is not up to them to instruct us.  The onus is on us as whitefolks to do this work and to do it now. 

So let me suggest that whitefolks like me need something like Alcoholics Anonymous.  Only this would be called, perhaps, Whitefolks Anonymous (I’m open to a better name and would welcome suggestions in comments).  We need groups of whitefolks to meet on a regular basis to grapple with our addiction to white privilege, a racist system, and our own demons of white supremacy. 

This is and will be a work in progress.  But we have to start somewhere.  I have to start somewhere.  So here it goes:

Hi, my name is Leah.  I am white.  And I am a recovering racist. 

I live in a house that I did not build.  But it is the house I have inherited and for which I am responsible now.  I have a story to tell about how I got here and what racism and white supremacy have done to me and others.  You have a story, too.  And we need to talk to each other, to share openly, to hold each other accountable.  We need something like a 12-step program based on the Alcoholics Anonymous model.  It might look something like this:

1. We admit that we are powerless over white privilege, racism and white supremacy, and that our lives and our society have become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to racial healing and sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of that Power.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves regarding our addiction to white privilege and our complicity with a racist system.

5. Admitted to that Power, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs, stereotypes, micro- and macro-aggressions toward blackfolk and other people of color.

6. Were entirely ready to renounce and remove these racist defects of character within ourselves, our families, institutions, communities, and the larger society.

7. Made a list of all persons and communities we have harmed as a result of our addiction to white privilege, stereotypes, and a racist system, and became willing to make amends to them all. 

8. Humbly asked to be forgiven of our wrongs against people of color.

9. Made direct amends to such people and communities of color wherever possible, except when doing so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory of our assumptions, preconceived notions, acts of aggression, and failure to address the sources and effects of white privilege, racism and white supremacy, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

11.  Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with that Power, praying for knowledge of healing for ourselves and our sisters and brothers of color, and the power to carry that out.

12.  Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we carried this message to others addicted to white privilege, racism and white supremacy, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

How does this sound to you?  Would you be willing to engage in a conversation?  Would you invite a group of your white friends to your home or your place of worship or your local community center to discuss this?  Would you engage in an online conversation?

I welcome your feedback, your comments, your suggestions.

Let’s start the conversation.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Healing the Eagle’s Wings: God’s Mosaic

A Sermon for the 4th of July
The Rev. Leah D. Schade
July 3, 2016
Texts: Isaiah 40:25-31; Galatians 5:16-6:2; Luke 10:1-11

Children’s sermon: 
When I was in Japan many years ago, one of the host families gave me a beautiful vase.  It has beautiful calligraphy and delicate artwork, and I always keep it in this box and make sure to pack it very securely when I move.  Would you like to see it?

Oh no!  This is what I found the last time I moved – I opened the box and the pieces were broken! 

Sometimes no matter how hard we try to keep things safe and protected they get broken.  And that can happen with people, too.  Sometimes no matter how hard we try to protect our hearts, or our bodies, we can be broken too. 

I’m going to talk about what God does with our brokenness during the sermon and I want you to watch the pictures to see what happens, okay?  And after the sermon everyone will have a chance to come up here for healing prayers.  You can come up, too, if you would like.  And let’s pray together now:

Dear God . . . heal our brokenness . . . comfort us when we are hurting.  We love you God!  Amen.

[Watch the video for this sermon here:]

As I am coming to the end of my time as your pastor, I’ve been taking stock of the last five years of my ministry here.
5 weddings
17 funerals
21 baptisms (It’s a good thing when the baptisms outnumber the deaths!)
And hundreds of visits to people who were in need of prayer.

We’ve been through a lot together!  And while I am looking forward to this new venture of full time teaching, I’m also feeling sadness that I won’t be here to accompany you in the things you will face in the future, as individuals and families, as a congregation, and in our country.

In the last five years, our nation has suffered through countless shootings, natural disasters, human-made disasters, and political upheaval.  This coming year seems particularly poised to be a year that will be remembered as fraught with anxiety, fear, grief, and brokenness.
What happens to all those broken pieces of people’s lives? 
     What happens to all the torn and tattered shreds of the messes we have made? 

The temptation will be to respond in ways described by Paul in his letter to the Galatians.  He warned against “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these." (Galatians 5:19).

In contrast, he urged the followers of Jesus to practice, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22).  And especially during these times, he urged them to Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2).

This is what we are doing today in this healing service - bearing one another's burdens.  We are asking: “What does God do with the useless leftovers of the universe, the unwanted, unlovely brokenness…?”  (Wuellner, p. 7).

There is an answer in Luke 10:2.  Jesus says: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."

There is the key word:  harvest.  In Greek the word is therismos, which means “to gather.”  God gathers up the fragments.
And once they are gathered, God will transform them into something new and beautiful.  Something we would never have thought could come from such a motley assembly of brokenness.  All the broken pieces will be gathered and reassembled into something new and creative.  All the broken pieces God pieces together into a new mosaic.
If you look at these individual pieces and would take them apart like a puzzle, they would appear to be nothing on their own.  But like a masterful artist, God finds a way to take these shattered pieces and put them together into something that is beautiful.
God is here, even in this dark time,
preparing to gather the pieces together. 
And this is good news for us who are the fragments of this world. 

The writer Flora Slosson Wuellner writes:
What better [message of hope] for our throw-away abandoned people, our broken, fragmented humanity; our own individual shattered dreams, hopes, trust;
all the shards of lives which have never been realized or fulfilled in wholeness…

The core of Jesus’ mission,
more profound than even healing and restoration, is transformation...
When re-formed by God’s hands [our selves and our world]
are fulfilled and empowered
in a way we had never thought possible. (Wuellner, 8, 9).

We are being put together like broken wings.  Like a song I used to love from the 80’s called “Broken Wings”:  “Take these broken wings and learn to fly again, learn to live so free.  And when we hear the voices sing, the book of love will open up for us and let us in.”

The brokenness can be turned into healing wings.
This is a mosaic of an eagle made by children in school in San Diego called Perkins Elementary where they have engaged in The Rainforest Art Project.  They make mosaics that are therapeutic – healing for the children, the teachers, the parents, and for the whole community.  They can look at this mosaic and say – there’s a piece that was broken.  But now it has purpose.  It has meaning.  And it is beautiful.

Notice the children – all different shades and shapes, different personalities, different nationalities, different religions.  But they put their pieces together they make up a mosaic of what our country is.
I thought, what a powerful message in the heart of the city. 
Listen, children, it seems to say - there is no junk!  There are no worthless pieces.  Only pieces waiting to find their purpose again.
You need only take the time to gather the pieces together,
and open your eyes to the vision that God has given you for transformation. 

These fragments can be gathered together
and transformed into something that gives comfort and beauty
to a whole community.
No fragment is worthless in God s eyes.  
God will gather up even you
and form you into the beautiful mosaic of the kingdom.

One of our parishioners, Kay, reminded me of a beautiful hymn which we will sing this morning – “On Eagle’s Wings.”  It is so appropriate that this is our country’s symbol.  It is based on this text from Isaiah 40:31 – this image of being lifted up on eagle’s wings. 

We like to think of our country as being strong and proud.  But our country is actually a mosaic of brokenness.  The founding fathers and mothers came to this country from brokenness in Europe seeking a new life.  The native peoples already here experienced profound brokenness when their land was invaded by the European settlers.  And their pieces are in this mosaic too.  In every generation there have been waves of people coming to this country, bringing their brokenness, seeking a new start.

Along the way there have been voices who have said, no, we don’t have enough room for any more pieces, or these pieces won’t fit.  But God’s vision for this nation is to expand the mosaic, to see what God has in mind for all these broken pieces - more shapes, more colors. To take the broken wings of people who are coming from different places and incorporate them into the new, healed wings of the eagle.  

When you come to worship, you bring your brokenness as well.  God gathers up all of this within the worship service and transforms it through the liturgy.  All of our broken voices sing together, pray together.  This is what worship and prayers can do for us. 

God gives us a tangible sign of this fragment-gathering,
right here at the communion table. 
     Each one of us is like a fragment of Christ’s broken body.
          But when we share in this meal,
          we are rejoined and transformed
          into something even more miraculous and beautiful.
               Coming forward for communion
               we are part of God’s mosaic. 
            God is transforming the brokenness into new wings.  The book of love is opened up for us, and we are being created as a new mosaic of God’s kingdom.

Today you are invited to bring your brokenness to God. 
As we offer individual healing prayers
come forward to offer your shard to God.
Maybe it’s your own physical illness
or a problem you’ve been struggling with for a long time.
Maybe it’s a relation that has cracks in it,
or has shattered around you.
Perhaps you will want to come forward on behalf of someone you know, someone who, for whatever reason, cannot bring their own brokenness forward.
But you can.
You can “stand in the gap” – offering up this fragment to God,
entrusting this piece to God’s skillful hands.
Maybe it is this country you want to offer up in prayer.
Maybe you’re worried about our future as a nation.
Maybe you’re scared about what may happen next –
the next shooting; the next war; the next president; the next natural disaster; the next human-caused disaster.

Never doubt that your individual prayer is powerful . . .
and necessary.
Because your prayer, too, is part of the mosaic.
Your prayer is part of the artwork that is the kingdom of God.
As you come forth for communion,
remember that your brokenness is God’s wholeness,
That your shattered pieces are transformed by God.
And you are incorporated into the wings of healing
that will lift this congregation
this community
this country
and your own self
into the healing of God.

Work cited:  Wuellner, Flora Slosson,  A Broken Piece of Barley Bread ; Weavings, Volume 14, No. 6, November/December, 2004.

Friday, June 24, 2016

298 Today - A Poem about Gun Violence

298 Today*

By Leah D. Schade

Hot grey seed
shot into pliant flesh
yields a ruby bud
blossoming into red petals.
Is this our harvest?
A crop of stilled hearts.

To hold the metal of judgment
in one’s hands;
To learn the intricacies
of the mechanisms
that finally come down to your finger
folding around this smooth curve.

It is weakness ashamed
of its ineptitude
that thrills in throwing a stone
faster than God can blink.

It is the coward’s way
to end a conversation
with your own humanity.

This machine-with-one-purpose
is the lie we have told ourselves
to compensate for our fear.

The stronger way is to pierce
one's own soul with a shard
from the mirror that shattered
upon Abel’s impact.

The more courageous way
is to confront that stained reflection
and weep the tears
that may yet loosen the long-dried layers of loathing.

The truth lies somewhere
in the distance between
your curving finger
and the flesh of the body you are about to fell
it is your own.

* 298 is the number of people shot in America every day.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Josh Fox’s Film HOW TO LET GO - A Choir Member’s Review

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade

“There’s nothing wrong with preaching to the choir.  As long as the choir members go out into the world and sing.” – Josh Fox

The above quote is how Josh Fox responded when asked if his new film, How to Let Go of the World and Love All Things Climate Can’t Change, was aimed at those who were already convinced that climate change is a problem.  In a theatre packed with well over 200 people, many of whom stayed for the Q&A after the film, the question carried the concern that the movie would not reach the ones who need to hear the message about the climate crisis.  Fox’s response reminded us that the message of the film cannot stop at the door to the theatre.  

I am one of the members of the environmental “choir” who has been vocalizing about climate change issues for many years.  As a Christian ecotheologian and pastor who has written an entire book on this topic, I know exactly what he means about “preaching to the choir.”   We wonder – will our work have any consequence beyond those who already share our concern?  Happily, while I saw the “regulars” in our community who faithfully attend meetings, marches, rallies, films, and other events about environmental issues, I also saw many, many people I did not recognize.  The free screening of the film at Lewisburg, Pa’s Campus Theatre sponsored by RDA, the Bucknell Center for Sustainability and the Environment, and the newly formed SusquehannaValley Climate Action Network drew in a substantial crowd on a Monday evening in June that ranged from young children to elders; people from all walks of life; and, presumably, from different political orientations.  I have viewed Josh Fox’s previous two films, Gasland and Gasland II (for a review of the second, click here), and tried to see this one not just as a choir member, but also from the perspective of those who may be new to the climate change issue.  

There was a sense of energy in the air as the director took to the stage and serenaded us with his banjo before the film began.  Over the next two hours we were taken on a ride that began by dropping us into the depths of despair.  The first part of the movie deftly and compellingly catalogued the ways in which our planet has been damaged due to climate change and continues to careen toward a 2 – 4 degree increase that will alter life on earth in horrific ways we are only beginning to fathom. 
In the theatre a few seats away from me sat a grown man.  Two times during the film I heard him crying, sniffling softly.  Once was when Fox (intrepid investigative reporter that he is) brought us into the Amazon jungle in South America and showed us two things – an oil spill from a ruptured pipeline that had coated a beautiful jungle forest in black slime; and another part of the jungle that was completely destroyed from clearcutting.  His new cinemagraphic toy for this film is the drone which he uses to great effect, taking us up to a bird’s eye view to see what man hath wrought.  And yes, it is enough to make you cry.

Another time of quiet weeping was after all the experts had been interviewed about the myriad ways in which climate change has already destroyed coral reefs, forests, glaciers, island nations, and human settlements.  The sobering realization that 40 – 60% of all species on earth are headed for extinction – even if we stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow – was a moment that left every expert without words.  Fox wisely let the silence of each of them speak for itself.  The lament was palpable.

But as Fox contemplated giving up and retreating to his idyllic childhood home in the forests of northeastern Pennsylvania, he experienced a second wind – one which carried him and the viewer through the second half of the movie.  In Christian parlance, we call this the Holy Spirit, blowing through our lives, refreshing us, lifting us to hope, and driving us to take action.  The stories of those people and communities that are actively resisting the powers that profit from the destruction of people and the planet were at times heart-breaking, but also inspiring and motivating.

From a religious studies perspective, there were several moments in the film that resonated with biblical  and interfaith themes.  The motif of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” was invoked by one of the experts interviewed about the ways in which climate change is bringing about cataclysmic effects.  He was referencing the book of Revelation in the New Testament in which four figures on horses symbolize war, famine, pestilence and death.  It was an appropriate and sobering description of what our world is facing.  This reality was also chillingly captured by Fox in the Amazon jungle when they encountered a worker’s ghostly latex uniform hung on a cross warning of the toxic environment they were about to enter.  I have used the term “eco-crucifixion” to describe the environmental crisis on this planet, and this image confirmed what people, plants and animals are subjected to daily at these places where sacrifice is deemed necessary by the fossil-fuel empire.

But the film also drew on biblical images to frame the positive work that is being done around the world to resist the empire.  For example, the heroic efforts of Pacific Island warriors paddling out in their hand-made boats to stop a coal tanker from leaving port in Australia was described as David facing Goliath.  Even as their island homes are disappearing due to sea level rises from climate change, they chanted relentlessly:

We are not: drowning!
We are: fighting!

The spiritual aspect of this work of resistance was also evident in the interviews with tribal peoples who described the trees and jaguars and parrots as having spirit, connecting with human beings on a profound level of being.  And this connection is one that transcends money.  “I’m a poor man,” said one of the tribal leaders, “but I am rich because I live on this land.  I have my freedom.”  But it is others’ desire for wealth that enslaves him, his tribe, his homeland, and the ecosystems ravaged by the bulldozers, pipelines, and carbon dioxide leading to the heating of the planet.  Nevertheless, the climate warriors across this planet are actively and creatively engaging with each other and with their communities to mount massive movements of education and awareness, activism and nonviolent resistance. 

I talked with a mother who had brought her two young boys to the film and asked how they responded.  While her younger son felt fear that moved him to cuddle into his mother’s arms, it was the movie's message of hope and action that came through loud and clear to her older son.  “He told me he wants us to put up solar panels at the church!” she said.  Indeed, out of the mouths of babes.

How to Let Go is a film that will make grown men cry and cause little children to crawl into their mothers’ laps in fear.  But it will also inspire brave little boys and girls run out into the streets, to their schools, their houses of worship with the message:  We must DO something.  Like Casey Newton in the film Tomorrowland refusing to succumb to despair even in the face of mounting bad news about the state of her world, Josh Fox’s film shows us that more and more people are rising up to shift our society and values toward the principles that matter most. 

Whether you are a member of the choir, just beginning to learn about climate change, or even a skeptic about the climate crisis, the film is worth your time to see.  Because it is a story about what it means to be our best selves when faced with the worst circumstances.  And it has the potential to activate the resilience, creativity, courage and love that is exactly what we need for this time and this planet. 

Note: In 2-Minute Ecopreacher: What Can A Person of Faith Do About Climate Change?, I include some of the action steps that Fox encouraged every person to take as a result of having their eyes opened about the seriousness of the problems we face.  

Leah Schade is author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching (Chalice Press, 2015), is an ordained Lutheran pastor who has served three congregations, and will begin her new position as the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky, on August 1.