Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. –Psalm 30:5
This past week I’ve found myself quietly weeping. The circumstances that I found myself in felt completely overwhelming, threatening the kind of grief that can swallow one up and exact a creeping depression on one’s life and ministry.
Last week, Arwyn and I spent 60 hours making a visit to our sisters and brothers in the Caribbean Synod. You might remember that our synod received a special offering to support our friends in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, an offering that totaled some $91,000.00. The purpose of my visit was to see the recovery work that is happening and to, at least ceremonially, present your gift simply by being present to listen to the pastors of the synod – and their bishop – debrief their own circumstances and tell the story of their recovery – spiritual and physical.
Those conversations took place against the backdrop of what I had already seen for myself. In the cities, fully a quarter to a third of the homes and businesses still lack a roof; the now, all-too-familiar blue tarp still flaps in the wind, guarding the fragility of what’s below. In the backcountry, the blue tarps cover two-thirds to three-quarters of the homes and businesses. There are still properties that are leveled, in place – that look like a jumbled mess of building materials – where there just wasn’t the money nor the wherewithal to rebuild. Water and electricity are running – in most places – but they are not yet dependable in any places, and cut out periodically and for unpredictable periods of time. The demarcation between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is often a generator to mitigate the unpredictable electrical outages and either a stash of bottled water or a water purification system in case water becomes a problem, as well. Mold seems to be everywhere and the “high water marks” on homes and schools and businesses are still a visible reminder of the long road of recovery that is still ahead.
The pastors of the synod addressed their stories one to another while Bishop Lozada of the Caribbean Synod, Bishop Graham of the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod and I were invited to listen – and that’s when the tears started to gather. Story after story, in Spanish and in English, of pastors who lost everything. One pastor from St. Croix arrived at the retreat with the three outfits he still has left. Another has been living in their damaged church building because the parsonage is uninhabitable. Story after story of pastors whose congregations were decimated by death, exodus to the mainland, and the loss of offerings when people lost their jobs, their homes – everything. Many – most – of the pastors are, or have become, bi-vocational to support their ministries. In some cases they are pastoring multiple congregations. And the congregations are clearinghouses for cleaning supplies, food, and donated building materials. The emotional and physical fatigue in the room was palpable, the tears ran freely – story-teller and listener, alike.
The stories shared a few commonalities, apart from loss, too. There was an indomitable spirit of hope. Folks are in this for the long haul and believe that a better day is coming. There was an understanding of being in this together, that partnership across the synod – and the synods of the ELCA, as well as ecumenical partnership – was more reliable than governmental intervention. And, perhaps the most overwhelming commonality was gratitude. Even in the devastating recitations of loss, there was a genuine gratitude for all that they still had – life, family, support from the mainland, good neighbors, and most of all faith. These good pastors, who have sacrificed so much for their ministry in the face of these horrifying, almost third-world circumstances, each one of them gave powerful and persuasive testimony to how Jesus Christ has been in this with them, shown forth by the goodness of others to them, and is changing this little corner of the world through them. Coffee and conversation took on a sacramental quality as the bishops listened and the room became infused with the presence of the Lord.
But hear me, friends. We cannot simply believe that a generous offering and a spiritual reading of these circumstances are the end of our responsibility to our sisters and brothers in the Caribbean Synod. There is much work to do – and all of us are needed to share in the rebuilding.
Under the title Building Puentes (Building Bridges), the three bishops are working together to accompany our sisters and brothers in the Caribbean Synod as the rebuilding continues.
What’s been accomplished:
- Financial resources have been gathered from Delaware-Maryland and Metro DC;
- a framework for administering those resources has been established and is being administered by the Metro DC Synod until such time as it can be done in the Caribbean Synod;
- work groups from Metro DC and our joint College Park campus ministry have been on the ground, assisting; and
- the bishops have visited and provided a respite and renewal retreat for all the Caribbean Synod’s pastors.
What’s happening now:
- Delaware-Maryland is about to send two work groups in September, led by Pastor Mark Parker (Breath of God, Highlandtown), assisted by Synod Treasurer San Dee Koons (Hope, Middleborough);
- bishops will return for the installation of the new synodical bishop in October as a tangible sign of support;
- rostered ministers are invited to come and learn about the synod, its relief efforts and to provide some “relief preaching” this coming April – details are coming, soon; and
- work groups will go again next summer.
What immediate needs are still in front of us:
- One of the synod’s feeding ministries had its board president die in the hurricanes, its treasurer died four months ago as a result of injuries in the hurricanes, and its secretary left for better work on the mainland. The remaining board member, the vice president, is a retired English-speaking pastor who desperately needs assistance in getting the financial house in order and dealing with non-compliances issues with the IRS. Is there someone with some financial expertise who might be able to spend a week in the Virgin Islands helping to put this ministry back together even as they are feeding thousands?
- One of the synod’s pastors, ordained 49 years, lost all of his books in the hurricanes and desperately misses his Barclay’s commentaries. Is there a pastor or congregation that has that set collecting dust on the shelves who would be willing to ship them to our friend?
- Another of the synod’s pastors has lost his Harpers Commentary, Harpers Bible Dictionary, his basic Luther books, etc. Is there someone who might pack a box of basic theological and biblical books to help accompany him as he rebuilds his library?
This conversation is ongoing and we are committed to accompany and support our sisters and brothers in the long-term. I will report to you the opportunities and needs as they arise, and I know that God will act through us for the sake of our neighbor.
My tears still flow as I think not only of these circumstances, but also of the great love that our Caribbean Synod sisters and brothers showed for us when, as Arwyn and I prepared to leave, they laid hands on us and prayed in thanksgiving for all of you – for us, and our partnership.
Weeping continues here and in the Caribbean, but glad news – joy comes! ¡Gracias a Dios!
I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit. Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!” You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. –Psalm 30
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. -Philippians 1.3-5
I announced recently that the Rev. Gerry Rickel completed his ministry with our prison ministry, The Community of St. Dysmas, in order to begin his new work as interim pastor for Holy Spirit (Eldersburg). Even as we welcome Pastor Susan Beck to this new role with St. Dysmas, I am moved to share Pastor Rickel’s valedictory at this transition. +bg
So I have resigned as Pastor of The Community and taking on the ever-popular interim. I am pleased to be serving the good people of Holy Spirit in Eldersburg. The last seven years have been a blessed a time for me … amongst the most blessed of my ministry. Let me give you 10 reasons why The Community of St. Dysmas has blessed me…
- I have been privileged to walk beside Patrick and Kas, Krista and Jennifer, Michael and Inga, and many others in their journey to freedom. They are some of the most courageous people I have ever known. Living on the “inside” is a debilitating, depressive, and oppressive experience. It will beat you down and give you little hope of a future. I have been with folks who have not only survived but are better Children of God despite the system.
- I have discovered again and again that we are all in the same boat called humanity. Some of us have a thick coat of respectability, while others of us wear ragged clothing called survival. No matter the surface games we play, we are all working to get through life. Let’s drop our pretentions and partner with each other! Life would be so much easier.
- Going through the gates to the “inside” is not an act of courage, as much as it is walking with Jesus. Jesus says that when we are in prison we meet Him (Matthew 25). Society and the System make it extremely difficult to meet Jesus. So to whom are who are we going to listen; Jesus or the man?!
- The people we meet on the “inside” are Children of God. God created them, Jesus died for them on the cross, and the Holy Spirit nurtures them along the way. They deserve our respect not because of what they have done but because of whom God says they are!
- The ministry of The Community of St. Dysmas is pure Jesus. There is no church politics, no tradition, no dogma, no committees, and no denominations. The Community of St. Dysmas is church at its best!
- The Good Samaritan story over the years has been interpreted many different ways (“thank God I am not one of them”). I have discovered in the last seven years that the message is all about being in the ditch with people who are downtrodden and beaten up by the world. The people of God are to be “in the ditch” with their fellow travelers!
- The Lord’s Meal is for everyone. Who are we to put strings on who receives and who does not? We are to stand aside and let God do Her work!
- We imprison way too many people in this country … the most of any country in the world. I weep over our injustice and racism. There are better ways to treat substance abuse (“War on Drugs” that started in the late 1960), mental illness and our racism (“The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid” from The New Jim Crow, pg. 6). Instead of more unjust laws, God calls on us to repent and reform.
- God does God’s best work in times like this and in places like prisons. Jesus is heard, hope is given and the Cross is lifted up! Look at the prophet’s message to God’s people in exile, look at who Jesus hung with during his ministry, look at who Jesus hung between on Good Friday! This is the church’s finest hour!
- Following Jesus is not easy, but it is the only Way. As Daniel Berrigan said, “If you are going to follow Jesus … You better look good on wood!”
So Shalom to you my fellow travelers. Be of good cheer. We have Jesus!
Pastor Gerry Rickel, Blessed
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. -Philippians 1:3-11
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21
Today, the Reverend Claire Schenot Burkat will retire as Bishop with and for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, ELCA. Though slight in stature, she has strong convictions of which she is not shy. She speaks with the voice of a sage and wise displaced New Yorker, simultaneously pastoral and prophetic, faithful in her pursuit of beloved community and glimpses of God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Her integrity is awesome and she places this church that we love and serve so far above any one or personal agenda that it is as refreshing as it is unusual in this day and age. Always snapping pictures with her cellphone and lifting up the achievements and witness of others, Bishop Burkat is a friend, a valued colleague and – while I am genuinely excited to welcome and work with her fine successor, Bishop Patricia Davenport – I will genuinely miss Claire in the Conference of Bishops and on the front-lines of leadership in this church.
Bishop Burkat and I have not been life-long friends, but our lives have intersected at various places along the way of faith. Both of us are ministerial children of the Metropolitan New York Synod – and both of us attended the same outdoor ministry program in high school, Pinecrest Lutheran Leadership Ministries, though we were a few seasons apart. We share a heart for evangelism that manifested in her ministry as a Mission Director for two ELCA synods and an Episcopal diocese, while I was a redeveloper and a part-timer on Bishop Knoche’s staff. Both of us, keenly aware of our privilege, have made considerable efforts to bridge those gaps in our own lives and in the church.
Unlike me, Bishop Burkat is a pioneer. Ordained 40 years, she was a trailblazer among women in ministry and, along the way, shattered more than one stained-glass ceiling. Passionately on the side of the poor, Bishop Burkat has called this church into the margins, in partnership with the most vulnerable among us. Gutsy, she has demanded that the church abandon its postures of navel gazing to roll up our sleeves and enter deeply into community with one another – and the world around us. She hasn’t simply extended Christ’s invitation to “come and see” to those outside the church, she pressed us, as the church, to come and see Christ among our neighbors. On almost every issue she has taken up, I have found myself challenged as a disciple of Jesus Christ to be in deeper relationship with the church and world God so loves.
Don’t misunderstand me, Bishop Burkat does make mistakes – and, frankly, she’s hocked-off more than a few people along the way! Still, one of the things that I admire most about her is her ability to say that she’s sorry – and mean it. She’s put her own money and reputation where her mouth is, and she has always tempered her prophetic voice with a genuine pastoral love for those in her care. Indeed, in victory, she has been gracious; in defeat, she has been humble and usefully chastened – learning from the very voices she seeks to lift up in church and society.
Through her strength, commitment and leadership, Bishop Burkat has been a friend and challenge, a supporter and a thoughtful critic, a pastor, and friend. She is among my heroes and, our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said it well: “When I grow up as a bishop, I want to be like Claire Burkat.”
In the retirement of Bishop Claire Schenot Burkat, a major leader of our church is stepping into a new season of life and ministry, leaving a void in the church’s conscience, leadership and public voice. All of us who are spiritual heirs of her ministry will need to discern how to step into that gap and continue to urge the church forward in its mission with evangelical urgency and theological integrity.
Bishop Burkat – dear Claire, you’ve taught us well, you’ve shown the way and we’ll not forget you; indeed, we are in your debt. Thank you and thanks be to God for you.
I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:16-21
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord;” and she told them that he had said these things to her. -John 20:18
This was the meditation I offered in Chapel for the Festival of St. Mary Magdalene
Almighty God, your Son first entrusted the apostle Mary Magdalene with the joyful news of his resurrection. Following the example of her witness, may we proclaim Christ as our living Lord and one day see him in glory, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Today, we commemorate and give thanks for the witness of St. Mary Magdalene. Lutheran Christians don’t know what do with the Marys, often relegating Mary, Mother of the Lord to a Sunday in Advent and Mary Magdalene to the sidelines of the Easter story; today, we have the privilege of remembering Mary Magdalene through the scriptural witness of her part in the Easter story. Pushing aside the many traditions and tales of who this apostle to the apostles was in her life before the resurrection, today we focus on her humanity, her faithfulness, and her witness.
Humanity: Sometimes, Mary Magdalene is attributed to have been a prostitute, though there is no biblical witness to that “tradition” which, it seems to me, was imposed by those who were either trying to discredit her witness or to enhance the transformational life she found in Christ. But, Mary Magdalene’s humanity isn’t in such traditions, it is front and center in her grief. What love she had for the Lord, to risk her safety and to fully enter her grief in going to the tomb; grief which causes her to not recognize Jesus when he’s right in front of her! Her grief reminds us of our own. How many times has Jesus been present to us when our grief or our perception of reality caused us not to recognize him? At the bedside, the graveside, in dreams that go unrealized – the witness of the Gospel is that Jesus is surely present, and we are never alone.
Faithfulness: Not only did Mary Magdalene come faithfully to care for the body of her Lord, the encounter with Jesus betrays her faithfulness in going as Jesus leads. He entrusts something precious to her, the good news. What if Mary Magdalene had been the prototypical Lutheran? What if she held that good news to herself? What if she had been timid about sharing this incredible encounter with the others, preferring to hold it as a private treasure – her “Jesus and me” moment? Faithfully, she was blessed and sent – she took seriously the treasure that was in her stewardship and shared out of love for God and neighbor.
Witness: From the run from the tomb to the disciples, Mary Magdalene was the entire Christian Church on earth. In the creed, when we profess to believe in the holy catholic church and see ourselves as part of the larger whole of the body of Christ, it is humbling to remember that until Mary Magdalene told the good news to the other disciples and they, in turn, shared it with others, she was for that moment the whole of the holy catholic church, she was the church, the Body of Christ alive in the world and entrusted with the precious gift of the Gospel.
Thanks be to God for Mary Magdalene and her evangelical urgency! Her humanity, her faithfulness, and her witness should inspire our own, reminding us of our power, privilege and responsibility to go where Jesus leads, to be the church, sharing the treasure of the gospel.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord;” and she told them that he had said these things to her. -John 20:1-2, 11-18
by Bishop Bill Gohl
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve… –Matthew 20:28 On Sunday evening, I pulled into the parking lot of the Maritime Institute in Linthicum for the Lutheran Deaconess Association Conference Anniversary Recognition Banquet. My invitation was to “bring a brief word of welcome.” My internal sense of purpose after a long Sunday of crisscrossing our synod was to “get out of here as quick as possible.”
Three and a half hours later, I was on my way home from one of the most refreshing evenings I’ve spent in quite some time!
The LDA is a pan-Lutheran community of deaconesses who serve in a broad and diverse variety of ministries that bridge the gap between the church and world. Some are serving in very “traditional” diaconal ministries that are congregation-based or church agency related, but many others serve Christ through their work in secular agencies. While some are on the rosters of their respective church bodies, the LDA is its own community for formation, accountability, and encouragement. That sense of community was genuine and encouraging. In was seated with nine members of the LDA Valparaiso class of ’71, all of whom began in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Two of those folks are still LCMS and have served happily and productively in LCMS-related ministries; the rest are now affiliated with the ELCA, three are ordained, two are former synodical Assistants to the Bishop, one is a seminary professor. Just the privilege of their company was well worth the sacrifice of an evening.
Add to that the testimonies of those celebrating anniversaries – from five years to 60 years of consecrated ministry, every last of which lauded the richness and importance of the LDA community, I was totally hooked. These sisters have something that the larger church desperately needs: relationships that allow them to have respectful discourse where they sometimes agree to disagree, and a koinonia where they hold one another in love, community, and accountability. Whether they are in formation, in service, on leave from call, or retired, they live in community and expect one another to participate in cultivating that community. A member of the class of 1958 was present to celebrate her 60th Anniversary of Consecrated Service – and she has not ever, in 60+ years including formation, ever missed an LDA community gathering!
Locally, members of the LDA in our synod include Pastor Kati Kluckman-Ault, serving as pastor/developer of Rejoice Fellowship (Glen Burnie), and Jean Warren, recently retired executive director of Lutheran Community Services in Delaware, a member of Grace (Hockessin). Each has brought that diaconal spirit and curating of community as foundational to their ministry. LCMS members of the LDA serve in our local LCMS schools, through the work of the Lutheran Mission Society and on the board for the Lutheran Home and Hospital Foundation, to name a few.
There is something quite special about the LDA, and I invite you to know more about their important work and their noble commitment to building Christian community. I am inspired to think with you and others about how we could cultivate such a community among the people of God serving Christ in our Delaware-Maryland Synod.
“It will not be so among you; whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” –Matthew 20:26-28
by Bishop Bill Gohl
And when they arrived, they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples. – Acts 14:27-28
This was my chapel meditation for the week after I returned from the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston. +bg
The scriptures amaze me with the candor and honesty with which they speak to our human condition. As a guest at the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston this summer, I was a bit skeptical about the breadth of topics that the speakers would engage with our young people, and how we would process those significant forays into culture and personal identity, gender and race, disease and recovery, hopelessness and hope; grounded in the indelible identity we share as baptized children of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever. Each speaker stood beside the running waters of the baptismal font, one even stepping into the waters to illustrate the life-giving nature of our baptismal identity, and claimed their belovedness given by the sure promise of Jesus.
The scriptures spoke to the now and not yet, the not realized and still hopeful faith each of the speakers brought to the stage. All that threatens to divide us coupled with the much more that unites us is embraced in the mighty Word of God, incarnated in Jesus Christ, alive in the vulnerability and humility of those who stood before 30,000 people and gave witness to our humanity coming to terms with itself in Christian community. The testimony, much like the scriptures in which it was grounded, left nothing hidden, nothing covered over, nothing was too embarrassing to share. The hurts, the uncertainties, the arguments, the prejudices, the -isms and -phobias that do injury to the body of Christ were laid bare for all of us to scrutinize, reflect and repent – just as the scriptures speak of the church from the very beginning.
And so is the celebration: And when they arrived they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how God had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples.
They remained no little time with the disciples. That was the gift of Houston, the time we were given by God and the support of congregations and ministries across this church, to give to each other. To listen and hear the other. To recognize God in situations and circumstances both familiar and foreign to our hearts and minds and experiences.
Sometimes we “do” community extremely well, and sometimes we fail very badly. It’s not a romantic notion or nostalgic experience, these Gatherings; it’s a call to gather the community for a time such as this and then scatter the body of Christ to be the Church alive in the world.
Community is God’s mandate and God’s gift, and such a mandate and gift were cultivated in the joys and struggles, the sorrows and celebrations of the people of God gathered in Houston last week, reminded that the Call of God, the Love of God and the Hope of God in Jesus Christ change everything.
Let’s listen as pilgrims, young and not-so-young, return to tell their stories. Let’s encourage testimony and witness. Let’s believe our young people in the stories they share. Let those who have ears listen, and let the church be challenged to act, out of love for God and neighbor, and for Jesus’ sake.
Authorities came there from Antioch and Iconium; and having persuaded the people, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city; and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed. Then they passed through Pisidia, and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia; and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. And when they arrived, they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples. – Acts 14:19-28