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.