Congregational Positioning for Ministry with Seniors – Powerpoint Presentation May 20th, 2018 Zion Lutheran Church

As part of my congregation’s visioning process, I created a powerpoint presentation about some of the implications of an aging population in the U.S. and the implications on congregational life.

On Sunday, May 20th, I  shared a vibrant conversation about ways older adults contribute to the life of the congregation. The focus of the discussion was about what spiritual needs exist in the lives of older adults and discovering the value of ministry with the older adults in the congregation.

I included slides from my powerpoint presentation in this post. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to link the embedded videos into the slideshow.

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Ash Wednesday – February 14, 2018

https://soundcloud.com/user-688328025/ash-wednesday-pastor-steven-cauley-february-14-2018

Increasing as I age, I become more aware of my sinful nature. It’s not as if I’m a terrible person, but I realize the powerful effect sin has on my life and the world God loves. Perhaps it is the realization I have that I have the power to destroy and great potential to create distress and havoc. Not that I would ever wish to access my ability to create harm and hurt others, but I am aware of my power and limitations.

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St. Ignatius described sin as putting our hope in the wrong things. From this perspective, I can see how far off my inner drive and thoughts are from the will of God. I think for some it would be just easier to give into sin and live a life without any internal examination to discover the beauty of one’s self. In other words, it is so tempting to live life in these times of transition with the motto, “Do whatever you want as long as you don’t harm anyone.” After all, it is the beginning of the age of authenticity. The point in time where our own experience directs our life and if we don’t like doing something we might as well quit the practice because the cost of missing out on something else is too significant.

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The world is getting smaller every day and more focus on the self. Losing sight of the inner relatedness of life is easy.

As Dr. King taught, “all people see in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

In other words, what affects one person impacts us all. We might not consciously be aware of, but we are all, as Dr. King suggests, woven together into one fabric of life.

Moving away from our self-centered way of living to a concern for the Commonwealth of all people was Dr. King’s vision of what he called the “Beloved community” in which he meant the Body of Christ dwelling together under the Reign of God. The sin manifests itself when we divide the world into the “good” and the “bad.” Of course, we are always the good ones; the others are bad. The ones who have a problem are still outside of us, and therefore we tell ourselves we must struggle against those outside our group.

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But a real community is different because of the realization that the evil is inside of us – not just inside the community or group, but inside of me. Jesus talks about this as thinking about the need to remove the speck of dust from my neighbor’s eye but overlooking the log that dwells within my eye. Sin dwells within me. Warfare is within me, within my community. We confess that we aren’t living the life God desires for us and that we place our hope in things that do not create an experience for all.

Jesus calls us into living a different vision for life. A life where, through our baptism into Christ’s death, we too are called to live a different narrative. A narrative where we are called to be agents of peace amidst the violent nature of the world while recognizing the warfare that is going on inside of me.

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Jesus calls us to seek the wholeness, in that our souls are restless until they abide with God. Nothing else will satisfy this longing. Many will attempt to fill their spiritual needs with things that are not spiritual, and as a result, they can never find that inner peace as they continuously battle their own self.

Jesus gives us words of great hope this Ash Wednesday. He tells us that he is God’s “Way, Truth, and Life.” There is a need in all of our souls that we cannot meet. It’s impossible for a human to be completely satisfied on our own. We seek for meaning and life outside ourselves.

This is the day we remember how we have placed our hope in those things that are not God. That we have all wondered from the Truth, Way, and Life that God desires for us. This is the day we remember that we are not at peace. We wrestle with far more matters of life than we care to admit. This is the day where we remember that we have neglected God’s call to live peacefully in community with the world God loves. And because of all this, one day our life on earth will eventually come to an end.

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This is a heavy day. But there is hope. Hope is found in the alternative vision Jesus offers in which there are many places to dwell in God’s house. In Jesus, there are many kinds of people who stay and live out what Dr. King called a “beloved community.”

This Lent, we will dig deeper what it means that Jesus is the “Way.” Not “one way” or “a way” but “The Way.” Jesus words in the Gospel speak to us in ways that our culture cannot and will not talk. So, remember to listen to his words as if you were hearing them for the first time. Think about what you are seeing in your life and what God wants to show you. For God is there, ready to receive us and forgive us even in spite of ourselves.

Hear his invitation to repentance and the possibility of growth in your faith again. Trust that where Jesus is, there we may also be. Amen.

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God’s Great Reversal – Matthew 20:1-16

I’m going to share a truth that we know is true, but for some reason, it’s easier for us to deny it.  The truth I’m speaking of is that sometimes life just isn’t fair.  It’s a reality that sooner or later we’re all going to face.  It’s best that we are learning this fact while you are in your first half of life than waiting until old age to discover this truth.  In fact, you can learn this truth in nursery school – Sometimes lives deals us lemons.

Sometimes that’s the way things happen, isn’t it?  Sometimes life isn’t fair.  So we learn to deal with the unfairness.  So, let me tie this life reality in with the Gospel text today.  It’s a crucial point that I don’t want you to miss in the text.  Saying life isn’t fair is not the same as saying that God isn’t fair for two reasons.  First, of all, because God doesn’t owe you and me anything at all.  Like Luther said on his deathbed, “It’s true.  We’re all beggars.”  And second, God’s justice doesn’t work the way the world’s justice works.

Saying life is not fair is not the same as saying God isn’t fair because God doesn’t owe us anything at all.  In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, the very opposite is correct.  We owe God everything:  our time, our talents, and our treasures.  The very life that lives inside each of us has been gifted to us; even the breaths that you take, the clothes on your back, the food that is prepared for you, even your health to some extent is a gift from God.   The simple fact is:  God doesn’t owe us anything.

As active disciples of Christ, we commit our lives to God.  We resist the urge not to show up or to sleep in on our Sunday morning to worship God.  We spend our hard-earned money and resources to support the work and ministry of our congregation.  We spend time in prayer and the study of Scripture when we could be golfing or some recreation.  Our confirmation students could do something with their one hour on Wednesday nights other than talking about faith formation.  You see, as active Christians, we follow Jesus, the landowner into the vineyard, where we are called to do the work of God.

For us, active disciples of Christ, things may not always seem the way we would like.  It doesn’t seem fair to us that some deserve God’s grace when they don’t even show up or participate.  We are the ones, after all, who’ve done most of the work, we tell ourselves.  The laborers in the parable that began picking the first hour of the day picked more grapes than those who started picking the last moment.  If that were to happen today, there would be an uproar; labor strikes and unions would lash out. It is only right that the reward for our work should be consistent with the time we put into our efforts.

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But this parable has nothing to do with economics, at least in the sense that we understand the economy.  It is not a description of how employers should treat workers.  It is, after all, a description of how God works in the kingdom of heaven.  God’s goodness may or may not be entirely understandable.  We don’t fully understand the grace of God.  And based on this parable, we may indeed think that God doesn’t operate fairly.

God’s not fair, according to our limited human reasoning.  In fact, if we put ourselves in the place of the laborers who started at sunrise or midmorning or even early afternoon, we have missed the point of the parable.  Jesus is the one who works from sunup to sundown.  Jesus is the one who has borne the burden of the day and heat.  Only Jesus has earned us salvation.  The grace is that God still calls us towards God’s self and gives us the full wage.   God offers you the promise of salvation, not because you have worked hard enough but because Jesus has done it for you.

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God gives us more than we can ever earn.  The Bible teaches that the wages of sin are death, but it is God who gives life.  The laborers in the vineyard all received a full day’s pay regardless of the hours they worked.  We have all been given salvation, irrespective of the sins we’ve been under.

And perhaps even more remarkable is that God has entrusted us to do God’s work.  In baptism, we’ve been given the work of a lifetime, and at the table, God renews us and then sends us out as labors to plant the seeds of God’s word, to speak to those who have never heard and to proclaim the word anew to those who have fallen away.

ripe-47423__480.jpgRemember that the kingdom of heaven is a gift, and in a way, we’re all latecomers, aren’t we? In Christ, it’s never too late to come home to the mercy of God. Thanks, be to God.  Amen.

 

 

A Survey of World Christianity

Mark Noll begins in his book, The New Shape of World Christianity, with the following observations:

  • This past Sunday more Christian believers attended worship in China than in all of Europe.
  • This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined.
  • This past Sunday there were more members of Brazil’s Pentecostal Assemblies of God at worship than the combined number in the two largest U.S. Pentecostal denominations.
  • This past Sunday the churches with the largest attendance in England and France had mostly back congregations, and half of the churchgoers in London were African or African-Caribbean.
  • This past Sunday the largest congregation in Europe was in Kiev pastored by a Nigerian Pentecostal.
  • This past Sunday there were more Roman Catholics at worship in the Philippines than in any single country in Europe.

From: Mark A. Noll, The Shape of World Christianity, pp. 20-21

Experiencing the “Wild Goose Festival” July 13-16, 2017 |Hot Springs, North Carolina

After my family returned from our time in Mexico, we hopped in the car for the nine-hour drive down to North Carolina to experience the “Wild Goose Festival” located in a small mountain town of Hot Springs.

If you haven’t experienced the festival, you should.

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What is the Wild Goose?  Simply put – the Wild Goose is a Celtic image for the Holy Spirit.  The metaphor of a wild goose is one which evokes the image of an active, beautiful and utterly unpredictable pattern of flight.   The wild goose is about adventure and surprise with a new variable direction.  The flight of the goose is one that is taking in a community.  Geese share a common direction, and they honk together in a manner that supports the other geese.

The festival is committed to being an inclusive community rooted in the Christian tradition of radical hospitality (welcoming all people – of faith, or no faith), non-violence, always evolving, and relationships between people matter.   Conversations are bold, and questions are most important.

The Wild Goose festival is perhaps best described as a gathering for the arts, music, spirituality, community, social justice and for those who are seeking a common humanity by breaking down stereotypes and the social imagination of North America culture.

 

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Participating in the conversation, “The Spiritual Parenting Revolution” with Lynyetta Willis

 

I attended a few workshops during my time at the Goose, although there are over 200 such workshops that attendees can pick from what is of interest to them.  On Saturday morning I attended a workshop entitled, “Conservatives are from Mars and Progressives are from Venus:  Finding Our Way in Another World.” The speaker, Jennifer Ould, invited us to think about what it might look like to invite and welcome those who are against us, and to include those who would like to exclude us.

If we want any sort of meaningful change in the world, we have to practice new ways of engaging each other and recognize in our own selves our anxieties and defenses that diffuse our ability to remain open to dialogue and to meet our fears with loving nonviolence.

I enjoyed participating in “Jams and Juice” with my family.  “Jams and Juice” is like karaoke for kids, or Beer and Hymns and hymns (minus the beer).

 

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My daughter, Linnea, along with others singing at “Jams and Juice.”

 

Another great session was one on personal relationships entitled, “The Value of Burning Bridges” hosted by the speaker, Melissa Greene.  Melissa spoke about the importance of burning bridges when, at times, it is necessary to move on from a relationship that is no longer healthy and life giving to allow a stronger, sturdier bridge to be built in place of the unhealthy ones.

 

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Melissa Greene discussing the value of burning bridges

 

I really enjoyed Beer and Hymns held each night at eleven.  It’s a beautiful thing when people sing together.  For many, this is a spiritual practice.  “Beer and Hymns” is the event that is just what the name indicates.  Local musicians including guitar, mandolin, according, banjos, djembe drums, washboards, play ‘spirit’ lead hymns that are played faster and louder than normal.