On Black History Month

 by Bishop Bill Gohl

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation… – 1 Corinthians 5:18

Each year the NAACP publishes an extensive list of how folks might commemorate and celebrate Black History Month. When I served in the parish, I would encourage our community fo faith to participate in an activity each week; it was a way of helping congregations that felt the urgency to be more multicultural to actually do the work of engaging a different perspective, of gaining a new lens with which to see the church, the community, and the world. These activities were private and communal; included the arts, literature, and pilgrimage; and involved a sacrifice of ourselves and our financial resources.

Since I have become bishop, those activities haven’t been confined to February and the learning has informed my own voice and leveraging of privilege in this office, reminded that a bishop is a teacher of the church. Over these last years the most influential of those activities have included participating in the African Descent Lutheran Association Biennial in Milwaukee and ELCA triennial Multicultural Youth Leadership Event in Houston; reading I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness (Austin Channing Brown), The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander), Race Matters (Cornel West), and The Fire Next Time (James Baldwin); having spent time in community forums with Congressman Elijah Cummings and Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott; developing relationships with Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton (Episcopal) and Bishop Darin Moore (AME Zion); pilgrimage to Mother Emanuel (Charleston); participating in Black History performances with my children at their schools, and instituting Racial Justice Training for our Rostered Ministers.

This year, I have been reading Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates) and Slavery by Another Name (Douglas Blackmon); I sat on the ELCA Church Council team that drafted the Apology to People of African Descent; I am going to attend Preaching with Power through the Urban Theological Institute at United Lutheran Seminary/Philadelphia, and I am looking forward to a visit to the new Sankofa Children’s Museum of African Cultures in Pimlico. This summer, I will be a part of the Liberian Lutheran Association National Gathering. I’ve financially committed to becoming an ADLA Lifetime Member, pledged to the Peoples’ Church Capital Campaign and support one of the only ELCA Campus Ministries at a Historic Black University, our own ministry at Morgan State.

It’s not about being woke enough, or politically correct. These commitments come from a faith commitment to seeing the community we share in Christ and this world as larger than the cultural limitations of my family or church.

Dr. King, in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963), speaks a challenging word that the church still needs to hear today:

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. 

In my tenure as bishop of our synod, black voices, brown voices, Latinx voices, women’s voices, LGBTQIA+ voices have not only shaped my thinking, learning, preaching and teaching – but increasingly, these voices are being heard among us in ways that are reshaping our commitments to our baptismal covenant and giving rise to vital communities of color that make this corner of the church richer in our kindom diversity. We’re seeing signs of new life in our historic African descent congregations; there is an increase in the number of congregations that are becoming more multicultural in their worship; we are accompanying immigrant communities in forming new churches; we are seeing renewed commitments to old and new language-other-than-English congregations; our Racial Justice Team is offering training and learning; our African American pastors are meeting regularly with one another; a sisters cohort for women of color has gathered. It is overwhelming, the grace of such a Pentecost moment happening in, with, through – and often despite – us!

In a world that is doubling down in fear and fear-mongering, the church is called to renewed witness. Our faith in Jesus Christ requires nothing less. Let us attend.

Save us, O God, from ourselves:
From racism so often cloaked in pious words
For the machinations of white supremacy hiding in procedure
From micro-aggressions thinly veiled in arrogance
From apologies when they don’t give way to actions
From forgiveness without facing the truth
From reconciliation without reparation
Deliver us, O God, from expecting siblings of color
to continue to bear this emotional work which is not theirs to do
We pray grant us wisdom,
give us courage for the facing of this hour.
By the power of the spirit, all for the sake of the kindom that we share in Christ Jesus.
Amen.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 1 Corinthians 5:16-21

The Seventh Commandment: You shall not steal

Dear Bishop Gohl,

I have been visiting some Lutheran churches in the area.

What I am noticing is when they put words to songs in the bulletins, or on the screens, or both; there is no copyright information. This is not correct.

I have also realized that pastors and office administrators aren’t always aware of or understand copyright.

I found on one of the reporting sites information that I have gathered. I have sent it to some congregations. I have not visited a couple that I sent it to, to see if they started putting copyright information. One congregation with whom I shared my concerns and information continues not putting copyright notices in their bulletins.

I was wondering what you think might be the best way to communicate this to the congregations? I probably could teach best practices. Our previous pastor was a big advocate for copyright when he was planning our services and I learned a lot from them, as well as from reading up on it myself.

It is my understanding that if congregations are caught, the fines are pretty steep.

Last, but most important, it is only right to give the composer, arranger, etc. credit for their work.

Just thought I would put that out there to you and see what you think.

Thanks,

Karen

The Seventh Commandment: You shall not steal.
What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income. -Martin Luther, The Small Catechism

Point to Jesus

The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” – John 1:29

This past Saturday, after the “weather event” failed to fully materialize, and having been the beneficiary of “an abundance of caution” that cancelled both the King Commemoration and the Creating a Culture of Generosity learning event, I slipped over to Salem (Catonsville) for Saturday evening worship. Because of the dire weather predictions and a bit of sleet, the gathering at Salem was “intimate.”

Pastor Sarah Garrett Krey was the preacher for the day, and she wove together her sermon around the marvelous common experience many of us have had of a parent reminding us not to point at other people, that pointing is impolite. I identified so strongly with that reminder of my childhood that, as she invited us to defy convention and actively point to Jesus, I was rewriting my own Sunday sermon in my head.

How do we point to Jesus? There are a myriad of ways that we do that corporately as the Church, some more effective than others; and others more ineffective than helpful. When I preached for the folks of St. Abrahams (Beckleysville) on Sunday, I suggested that there are a few consistent ways that we can and do point to Jesus as disciples:

We point to Jesus in our worship. Not only in the obvious expressions of Word and Sacrament, song and prayer; but also in the very act of worshipping. Each time we return our time to God, when our neighbors recognize that we are headed off to church, when we are candid that we have a priority commitment each week for worship, we point to Jesus. In our openness to be challenged by the Word of God in scripture and preaching, in our thoughtful approach to confession and forgiveness, in open hearts that receive the bread and cup, the body and blood with awe and thanksgiving, we point to Jesus. When our words and deeds give witness to our changed lives, we point to Jesus.

We point to Jesus in our witness. I’m not talking about a door-to-door witness (though I’ve had good experiences of that work in my parish ministry), I’m talking about the witness of our lives. What does your calendar speak of your faith? How do we spend ourselves to amplify the voices of others? What sacrifices are we willing to make for the sake of righting injustice? I see the many ways that our folks are finding their legs to stand up and show up for our neighbors in the margins. I am hope-filled to the point of tears when I see the youth and the senior citizen who do the right thing even though it has cost and consequences. Our lives, our time, our willingness to call out the wrong that seems oft’ so strong  – in these, we point to Jesus.

We point to Jesus in our generosity. Scarcity begets scarcity and generosity cultivates generosity. Your generosity toward your congregation and our synod points to Jesus. Those extra-mile gifts for the food pantry, an openness to visit St. Dysmas, make dinner for one of our campus ministries and invite a young person to the life-changing experience of Mar-Lu-Ridge points to Jesus. Partnership with our synod’s Lutheran Youth Organization mission projects, your willingness to go to Puerto Rico to rebuild homes and to build cultural bridges points to Jesus. In a culture of me first, of bigger toys and larger places to keep our stuff, your defiance of setting apart what’s right for the sake of something larger than yourself, rather than returning what’s left, points to Jesus. I am thankful that your bank statement speaks well of this faith we share, as we point to Jesus.

Pastor Garrett Krey’s sermon stirred me to think about the Gospel invites us to point to Jesus, like John the Baptist, or as she called him, John the Witness. I see the ways that Gospel call manifests itself among us throughout our synod. Still, I hope you’re challenged, like I was, to think again about how we are each called out and set-apart to point to Jesus, too. We don’t always, and sometimes often, don’t get it right; and still, you inspire my witness, and I pray we can encourage one another, too. Our mission is compelling, our calling is clear, the need is urgent, friends: point to Jesus.

The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). – John 1:29-42

Uncertainty and courage

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. –Luke 6:35-36

Today is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday; had he lived, he would be 91. This weekend, across this nation, people will be gathered for prayer and community service to give thanks for Dr. King’s life, ministry and witness. Unfortunately, I fear that a people once clearly reminded of Dr. King’s dream have begun to forget and succumb to the notion that this is nothing more than a well-appreciated holiday weekend.

In my study at our Synod Office, a portrait of Dr. King hangs over my desk, opposite a portrait of his namesake, Martin Luther. That portrait, a gift from the Black Student Union at Gettysburg College in 1999, reminds me of mine and our collective responsibility to embody a daring hope for justice, equality and reconciliation in every generation.

“I have a dream.”

“Let freedom ring.”

“I’ve been to the mountaintop.”

Dr. King’s legacy looms large over those of us who preach, in season and out. His prophetic fire and pastoral voice continue to challenge us to a deeper, richer understanding of God’s vision for the world; and inspires us from comfortable places of civility to courage and action for sake of God’s love for us and neighbor. It’s easy to be inspired and stirred by Dr. King’s life and witness.

Henry Hampton, who directed Eyes on the Prize, tells a story about how Martin Luther King Jr., who wasn’t interested in becoming the leader of the civil rights movement, took those first tentative steps into the fray. King thought it wasn’t time, and he wondered about the integrity of the worshipping community and political activity; he thought the strategy of boycott and sit-ins might not be well received and would divide the church. As a youngish, new pastor of a congregation, he didn’t want to stir up the waters – not just yet. He wanted to establish himself, make sure he could secure his job and be able to help his community from a stronger position. Dr. King was a reluctant leader, an unlikely prophet – and a nervous parish pastor.

Despite King’s misgivings, some elders in the church went ahead with planning a church meeting anyway, essentially announcing to him, “We’re having the meeting tomorrow night, whether you’re there or not. Hope to see you there.”

King was set up. If he didn’t show, he would look like a young pastor who didn’t really know what was happening at his church, didn’t show leadership, and didn’t support very necessary community events. If he did show, his credibility, his reputation, his job – and his life – were all at stake.

Most of Dr. King’s confreres testify that he didn’t agree with all of the strategies of the civil rights movement and that he wrestled over the call to be pastor, prophet and leader in community. He wasn’t certain, he was faithful; certainly not knowing where all this would lead.

I have been especially struck by these words of Dr. King from “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore” (May 17, 1956): Let us not despair. Let us not lose faith in man and certainly not in God. We must believe that a prejudiced mind can be changed, and that man, by the grace of God, can be lifted from the valley of hate to the high mountain of love.

Let us remember that as we struggle against Egypt, we must have love, compassion and understanding goodwill for those against whom we struggle, helping them to realize that as we seek to defeat the evils of Egypt we are not seeking to defeat them but to help them, as well as ourselves.

God has a great plan for this world. His purpose is to achieve a world where all men will live together as brothers, and where every man recognizes the dignity and worth of all human personality.

God is seeking at every moment of His existence to lift men from the bondage of some evil Egypt, carrying them through the wilderness of discipline and finally to the promised land of personal and social integration.

May it not be that this is entirely within the realm of possibility? I prefer to live by the faith that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever, Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

We live and die by wrestling with the same uncertainties Dr. King experienced, central to our careers and relationships, central to our search for meaning and relevance, central to our desire to live lives that make a difference. Faith invites us to carry these questions with us; faith invites us to act on these questions, for the love of God and neighbor.

As we observe the King Commemoration this weekend, similar issues and chaos surround us 50+ years later. Economic injustice is rampant. War looms large. The marginalized are still pressed in the margins. The church is feeling those tensions. I sense, perhaps, we need to wrestle with the same questions that Dr. King knew in his time and place.

Courage, friends: this is God’s church – and God’s world – may we go as God leads; stirred from comfort into action, from complacency to love.

Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” –Luke 6:27-36

12(+) Days of Christmas

The [Magi] set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  – Matthew 2:9-10

These last weeks have given me tremendous joy and awe as I have experienced Christmas – the coming of Christ – the Word made flesh – Emmanuel, God with us – across our Delaware-Maryland Synod. May I share a few glimpses from my Christmas journey?

December 14: St. Paul, Lutherville – I slipped over to St. Paul to see my youngest, Joyanne, play both the donkey and a magi. She sang and danced with joyous abandon among her friends as the story came to life, it was a real Christmas moment.

December 21: Dreams & Visions, Baltimore – I was in the congregation when one of our newest mission starts had its second annual Christmas Pageant, replete with a real, newborn Jesus! A beautiful, interfaith, richly diverse community gathered around the old, familiar story of the birth of Jesus. That the cast was made up of largely marginalized folks from both church and community only heightened the way I saw the story unfold with new eyes; that someone took me aside afterward and told me that this ministry saved their life and connected them to Christ was a real Christmas moment.

December 22: St. Peter’s (Beards), Hagerstown – I preached for the people of St. Peter’s on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. This was my first visit to this congregation since, by petition of nearly 50 people, we reclaimed the congregation’s ministry for the future. There was joyfulness, gratitude, and hope in the worship and fellowship; there was a clear sense of mission and purpose in a place that our synod once gave up for dead. As I posed for a picture with the oldest member of the congregation, who came to meet a bishop – the first time she had ever met a bishop, she said – and thanked our synod for its support, it was a real Christmas moment.

December 22: Christ, Cleveland Avenue – A small, but mighty, congregation gathered for its annual Christmas Cantata, I was a guest of the pastor and sitting in the congregation. As the children, praise team and choir each added their gifts to retelling the old, old story of God’s love in Jesus Christ, I was overwhelmed by the grace of the moment. A congregation that experienced a time of schism, and not one, but two pastoral misconducts, defiantly sang of their hope in Jesus, the savior of the people, was a real Christmas moment.

December 22: Epiphany, Baltimore – I was in the congregation for the Christmas pageant where my sons and younger daughter were a part of the cast. As the narrator spoke the familiar words, my costumed children each added something to the tableau that assembled before our eyes. I was reminded that this was likely my son David’s last pageant, as he is set to graduate high school in June. His smile and laughter, the earnest ways he, Andrew and Joyanne gave themselves to their roles brought tears to my weary eyes, it was a real Christmas moment.

December 24: St John, Columbia – I was invited to preach among the people of St. John at 5:30, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Their pastor-elect sent greetings by video, their choir and praise team offered beautiful music, their pastoral ministry team led worship and provided prayer teams for all three services. The light was passed, communion was shared and it was Christmas! And, as wonderful as that was, in between services, I was in the fellowship hall visiting with the residents of the Howard County Cold Weather shelter housed at St. John over the holy days. Soup, bread, salad, and dessert were shared in abundance, a board game was underway at one table, a puzzle was coming to life at another. Congregants and resident guests mingled freely and conversation was animated, children were experiencing Christmas joy in spite of their circumstances. As these holy ones – hosts and guests – gathered for fellowship and then worship, Christ himself was among us – it was a real Christmas moment.

December 24: Christ, Inner Harbor – I preached for the midnight service at Christ Church, surrounded by lush greens with their fragrance perfuming the sanctuary, in the presence of a congregation that was gathered from old and young, near and far. The music was ethereal; the liturgy was perfect. As we passed the light, Christmas Eve gave way to Christmas Day, and the hushed sense of wonder created a real Christmas moment.

December 25: St. Mark’s, Baltimore – Joyfully, I preached and presided at the church to which I belong, and to which I have had a connection since college. There were about 30 of us who gathered in the brightness of Christmas morning, and what we lacked in size we made up for in spirit. As bread and cup, body and blood were shared, I had glimpses of awe as the Word became flesh and lived among us here. As our worship gave way to fellowship, which for many was the only holiday dinner and family gathering they would know on this holy day, it was a glimpse of beloved community, a real Christmas moment.

December 28: The Order of St. Stephen, Deacon – A pot-luck luncheon, a time to learn with one another about who St. Stephen was from Gail Wilson, OSSD (Braddock, Middletown), and worship. The privilege of preaching and presiding among these faithful servants of Christ and the Church, surrounded by all the signs of Christmas, and being charged by the scripture to go into the broken places of Church and society, stripped of Hallmark sentimentality, became a real Christmas moment.

December 29: South Mountain Cooperative Ministry – I was to spend the morning with Bethany (Brunswick) and the afternoon at St. Paul (Burkittsville) as we installed Pastor Greg Hartman as the pastor to this new cooperative. A significant fire in Burkittsville, across from St. Paul, that claimed four homes and the local post office, changed the plans and gave me a glimpse into how these churches have discerned shared ministry, what it means to be neighbor to one another and community, and resilience in caring after one another. I was to preach the sermon, but instead, in these dear people I saw a sermon happen right before my very eyes – it was a real Christmas moment.

December 31: Faith, North Avenue – Watchnight at a congregation where I was once the Vice Pastor! A potluck that would have, in the words of my table-mate, “made your momma proud” was rich and delicious – and included pork, and greens and black-eyed peas for luck in the new year! Our worship was beauitful, led by their senior seminarian transplanted from the Midwest and their deacon transplanted from the Anglican Church in Nigeria. Yours truly preached, and when the organist didn’t appear, played the piano as we lifted up our hearts and voices in the familiar Noel and marked the changing of the year, it was a real Christmas moment.

December 31: Peoples’ Community, Loch Raven – There were about 30 people already beginning worship, praise and testimonies when I arrived at 9 p.m. In the 10 o’clock hour, 75 or 80 of us honored and heard from Dr. Eric Campbell, who was leaving the congregation for a new call. At 11 p.m., I mounted the pulpit to preach for about 130 folks gathered. At 11:45, nearly 200 of us celebrated holy communion, passed the light and entered into the new year. At midnight, Spirit-ignited pandemonium broke forth! It was a real Christmas moment.

January 1: Jerusalem, Baltimore – I was in the congregation as Pastor Gregg Knepp led a small group of us to celebrate the Festival of the Holy Name of Jesus. The scriptures were shared and preached, hymns that extolled the name of Jesus were lifted with heart and voice, bread and cup were blessed, broken and shared – and afterward there were greens, sauerkraut and fried chicken to bless the new year, even as some neighbors from the community and the corner came and shared the meal – it was a real Christmas moment.

January 5: St. Peter’s, Alesia – I preached for this small congregation with a big reach into the community. As the wonderful music, which belied the congregation’s size, was shared; as Pastor Norma Shenning led worship for this church that loves her and that she loves back; as prayer concerns were raised for friends, family, and neighbors; and as we made our way to a grand feast in the fellowship hall afterward with glorias still on our lips, I witnessed a real Christmas moment.

January 5: Good Shepherd, Frederick – When the pastor whom you are about to install has confessed to the congregation that he loves Christmas music, watch out! This 12th day of Christmas was celebrated with spectacular music from praise team, choir, and pipe organ; a wonderful puppet skit for the children and a renewed sense of hope and anticipation for the future! Even as we heard the familiar stories of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, from the scriptures and installed Pastor Dave Simpson as shepherd for this place and people, I think we all experienced a real Christmas moment.

January 6: Reformation, Milford – After an impromptu visit with a clergy spouse, I slipped into the pews for Epiphany Day worship with the good people of Reformation (Milford). On this, one of my favorite feast days, I sat with my friend Pastor Paige Evers and enjoyed visiting with her bright and wonderful children, Sigrid and Soren, while Pastor Eric Evers preached powerfully and presided graciously (it was his turn!). As we sang the carols one last time, as we passed the light of Christ at the end of the season of celebration, as we were fed and nourished by Word and sacrament, it was a real Christmas moment. Watching the congregation work together after worship to lovingly undecorate the church was a touching and real Christmas moment, too!

The scripture says the Magi were overwhelmed with joy, and I feel a bit overwhelmed by joy, too, as I have followed the Bethlehem star around our Delaware-Maryland during these holy days. One did not have to search too diligently to see that Jesus, the Word made flesh, was among God’s people gathered around Word and sacrament, scattered for fellowship, learning, and service. That star rests brightly across our churches and among Emmanuel’s people.

Thank you, dear ones, for incarnating the Christ in your lives and witness, for the sake of this world God [still] so loves. Through you, for allowing me the privilege of sharing in your real Christmas moments, again and again, grace upon grace.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. – Matthew 2:1-12

Ray Revis, remembered

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. – Colossians 3:14

Ray Revis died on Monday night. Spouse of Darlene for nearly 60 years; father of Pastor Robin and her husband Pastor Chris, and Beth and her husband John; grandfather of Pastor Jacob and his wife Sandra, Justin and his wife Erica, and Katie; and great-grandfather of Kuen, Keira, and Kamden.

I first knew Ray when I served as pastor of Peace, Glen Burnie (now Rejoice Fellowship) in my first seven years of ordained ministry; I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him ever since.

Professionally, Ray was a “troubleshooter” for an employee-owned and operated industrial equipment company. In that capacity, Ray did what he did best – others would call him in when no one else knew what to do when large, complex and expensive pieces of equipment would malfunction and with the patience of Job, he would back into the situation, take each component of the equipment apart, test each individual piece, until he found the malfunctioning culprit – and then put it all back together again, testing the equipment at every stage until the whole was working again. He only would back in as deep as the problem, the key was in not taking too much apart! To listen to him describe his work was to know a man who was meticulous, patient and took pride in doing what he did exceptionally well.

To be honest, Ray was not a regular churchgoer when I was pastor in Glen Burnie. His dear wife, Darlene, was a pillar of the congregation, but he always kept a bit of distance. He wasn’t hostile or unfriendly, but he felt that he and God had some things to work out. Normally, I would see Ray when one of his grandsons, Jacob – now the Rev. Jacob Simpson – and Justin were performing in the Christmas pageant, being confirmed or leading on a youth Sunday. He was easy to pick out, just look for the man in the congregation most interested in getting out of his jacket and tie after the service! Still, Ray was the kind of parishioner that you could call on, with a moment’s notice, to pitch in when there was a problem. He and I spent more than one evening together over a malfunctioning sump pump, water heater, and dishwasher.

Not a secret to his family, he also did beautiful woodwork. When Peace began a contemporary worship service in our fellowship hall, Ray designed and built the stunningly beautiful altar platform. When I wanted to appropriate a beautiful cross that Pastor Mary Miller-Zurell (then of New Hope, Columbia) had designed with changing panels for the liturgical seasons, it was Ray that heard me out and, I would dare say, improved on the design and installed that cross at Peace (it now has a home at Holy Spirit, Eldersburg, where Ray and Darlene are members). Even when the bolts holding it to the wall failed, and the cross fell to the floor and was smashed, patient Ray came, gathered his creation up, took it home, and made the broken whole.

Why this tribute, you might ask, to an average Joe who didn’t have an especially distinguished ecclesial career of having been a Sunday School teacher all his life or a devoted choir member for all of his days?

Ray Revis inspired me as a person of faith. He was humbled by his own struggles and wore redemption well. He was deeply invested in his grandchildren and making sure they had a better go than he did. He returned to the full life of the church in a later season and, though dogged by portable oxygen, he too became a pillar of the church. His humility was his dignity, and he didn’t take much for granted. He was proud of his daughters and the families they created. He was an especially fine grandfather to Jacob, Justin, and Katie – and in them, I see so much of the very best of Ray. He loved being a great-grandfather quite possibly more than anyone else I know.

At the end of his life, while he received hospice care, Darlene and Ray moved in with Pastor Robin and Pastor Chris. There was redemption there, too. When health and circumstance threatened to rob Ray of his dignity, it was restored and protected by his family who, in typical Ray fashion, saw the problem, backed into it, carefully took as little of his life apart as they could, and put it back together again so that his last days could be lived in peace. Indeed, he died in Christ, surrounded by some of those he loved the best, his peace and dignity intact.

Nota bene: If one were ever to watch Pastor Robin’s ministry in our synod, even from a distance, you would see the same method of carefully backing into the task at hand – usually identifying new pastoral or diaconal leadership for a congregation or ministry – and then helping a council or call committee take apart some malfunctioning processes to find a problem, identify it, address it – and carefully put it back together again to find restored health, strength, and vitality. In many of the very best ways, it can be said of our colleague and friend: she is her father’s daughter.

Raymond Lee Revis, beloved child of God, 1937-2019. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. – Colossians 3:12-14