February 2019

Greetings Disciples,

On Sunday, January 27 our prayer of the day was about God’s word. “You have caused the holy scriptures to be written for the nourishment of your people. Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that comforted by your promises, we may embrace and forever hold fast to the hope of eternal life.”

And there it is – both my Epiphany word - LIFE and our collective community Epiphany word – DISCIPLINE have met together at the beautiful place of prayer and worship.

I have so enjoyed hearing some of the stories about your Epiphany words and the “confessions” of how the word chose you. Not necessarily a word we might choose for ourselves, but probably a word we need for the coming year.

I too have that confession. I drew out the word, LIFE and my immediate reaction was that LIFE is such a big word. And then my devotion for January 7 from “Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner” began with this sentence. “The temptation is always to reduce life to size. A bowl of cherries. A rat race. Amino acids. Even to call it a mystery smacks of reductionism. It is the mystery.”

Yes LIFE is a big word. It is THE mystery. I am feeling like I am being called back to life after the losses of not only my mother, but Diane Schweer and Monica Kistler. These two moms called out of life and through death in what seems before their time but called nonetheless. And then I am thankful for the very expansive idea of the hope of eternal life that is ours through Jesus. I am thankful for God’s word that helps us to hold fast to the hope of eternal life and the power and mystery of Jesus’ resurrection that shows us the way – or at least as much of it as we can see or understand at this point.

Then our Epiphany word, DISCIPLINE enters. What does that word mean for you and for us as a community? Here’s what some of you have offered: Checking myself before doing something. We are much more disciplined about some things than others. We choose. It means doing wrong in some way but knowing better. Focus on what’s important – setting priorities. Learning for the purpose of growth. From the root – disciple and pupil.

For me when I think of discipline, I think of doing something over and over again, so that I remember and can draw on what I have learned. When I think about that in terms of God’s word and LIFE, I am drawn into a larger picture, something that is bigger than me and I am thankful that I am participating in this life with you.

Believing It Boldly Loving Expansively,

Pastor Connie Spitzack

January 2019

Happy New Year Gracious People of God,

In Frederick Buchner’s devotional book, Listening to Your Life, January 1 begins with this, “I discovered that if you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living on Rupert Mountain opened up onto extraordinary vistas.” And concludes with: “If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and the gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.” (p. 2)

As we enter into this new year and the 3rd season of the church year, Epiphany, I invite you to keep your eye peeled and open your ears and pay attention to what God is revealing before you and in the midst of our community. In Advent we prepared for the coming of the Lord. In the 12 days of the Christmas season we celebrated the incarnation of Jesus. God became one of us and one with us. In the season of Epiphany we keep our eye peeled and our ears open to see the manifestation of God in Jesus. The incarnation of Jesus takes flesh, so pay attention to what that looks like in Jesus’ life, in your life and our lives together.

This life that we have been given is grace. Pay attention to what God is up to and revealing to you and our community. Try an Epiphany word, which is a word that you take from a basket on the Sunday of Epiphany, January 6 and carry it with you through the year.

Last year my epiphany word was JOY. I enjoyed watching and looking for joy and exploring the grittiness from which joy emerges. When I paid attention, I was rewarded with Christmas ornament that stayed out the whole year to remind me. I scented my body with an essential oil called Joy that I had lost track of amidst other perfumes. And when the scent of joy ran out, I entered into the grittiest joy of the year.

You know that my mother died in November. She had long journey with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which her cancer doctor told her would not be the cause of her death and she learned how to live with cancer. The cancer moved from a slow growing to a faster growing but yet she navigated it. The cancer compromised her immune system which meant that she was treated for colon cancer. She also had osteoporosis which focused on her back. So when she fell and fractured a vertebra, we knew it would be a long and painful journey to heal. So it is with a gritty kind of joy that a bladder infection moved quickly to her kidney and spread throughout her body.

It is the gritty kind of joy that I thank God that we could all be there to usher her through the gate of death and place her and ourselves into God’s tender care. She was ready. We knew that. She would not want to have laid around waiting for her body to heal. My mom and dad’s pastor had lead us in a beautiful service of scripture, song and reassuring and familiar words of hope in Jesus, our good shepherd. And our cousin talked about how our mom had all taught us to pray that bed time prayer and so all 5 of us as her children prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray dear Lord my soul to keep, if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. And this I ask for Jesus’ sake, Amen.” And we scented her with lavender and bid her farewell.

With a tearful gritty joy, we held her hand, cried and comforted one another and gave thanks to God for her and the ways in which she gifted our lives. And when she died, we sang, “Praise God From Whom All Blessing Flow” in a slow processional way as she returned to the one who created her and gifted us with her. It is a gritty joy but joy nonetheless.

I wonder what word I will draw this year and I wonder what the Holy Spirit has in the works for us?

Believing It Boldly Loving Expansively,

Pastor Connie Spitzack

December 2018

Greetings to the Holy and Beloved People of God,

At the end of October, Intern Nicole and I attended a retreat as part of the internship experience. The retreat was entitled: SURELY GOD IS IN THIS PLACE: DWELLING, SOJOURNING, PLACEMAKING and was led by Rev. Dr. Charlene Rachuy Cox, dir. of Contextual Education at Wartburg Seminary. It was a time apart to reflect and share about how we are present in the places we move through and live in.

We explored how place forms and shapes us, thinking about questions like; What does place have to do with who you are, how you feel and think about yourself and what you believe. John Inge in “A Christian Theology of Place” writes, “One only needs to open the Bible at the beginning of Genesis and read a few pages to be left with the impression that place is important to the writer.”

It made me think about a book I had read by Kenneth Bailey, “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels.” He has a chapter on the story of Jesus’ birth drawing on Luke 2:1-20 that has me thinking differently about Jesus’ dwelling, sojourning and placemaking in Bethlehem.

Our place influences how we make sense of our encounter with God coming to us. In the West our tradition creates a scene of a late night arrival, no place to stay but a stable with the animals and shepherd visitors. In the Eastern tradition, Mary is alone when the child was born. This then is reflected in worship practices where the altar is hidden from the congregation and the event of the elements becoming the body and blood of Jesus takes place out of sight. There is a mystery in the coming of Christ. The tradition for Christians in the Middle East was to focus on the birth having taken place in a cave which would have been some of the first dwelling places for the people of the Middle East.

Bailey makes a strong case about the place where Jesus was born taking into consideration the context and culture of the people in the Middle East. He places the birth of Jesus in a home. Bailey draws a picture of Jesus’ birth among extended family that welcomed them in with warm hospitality into a peasant home that consisted of a large family room that housed the whole family including the farm animals who were housed with the family to heat the home when it was cold and to prevent theft of the animals. The inn that was full was the guest room attached to the back of the home or the roof. The manger that Jesus was laid in was either built into the structure of the home or was a wooden feed box.

This coming of Jesus’ family into a town that welcomed him and surrounded him with extended family as well as the shepherds welcoming and worshiping is a refreshing way for me to think about the dwelling, sojourning and placemaking of Jesus and his family. Lynda Schneekloth and Shibley Robert in their book, Placemaking: The Art and Practice of Building Communities state that “Placemaking is the way all of us human beings transform the places in which we find ourselves into places in which we live.”

As we prepare ourselves for the “Advent”, for the coming of our Lord, I invite you to think about dwelling, sojourning and placemaking for God is in this place.

Believing It Boldly Loving Everyday,

Pastor Connie Spitzack

November 2018

Greetings to the Holy People of God,

Come Lord Jesus, be our guest and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.
O give thanks to the Lord for he is good and his mercy endures forever. Amen.

This is the table prayer that I grew up with as our family of 5 kids, two parents and one grandparent prayed together before we ate. This is how I was taught to say thank you. I don’t have memories of my mom or dad saying, say thank you. But I’m sure they did. I remember telling my own children, “now what do you say?” Giving thanks is something we learn over and over again and it changes us.

In an episode of The Simpsons, young Bart sits down with his family to a meal. When it's his turn to pray and give thanks, he says something to this effect: Lord, my dad earned the money to pay for this food and my mom worked for hours to cook it. What did you do? Thanks a lot for nothing.''

Bart Simpson is a cartoon character of a satirical working class family that pokes fun while criticizing social issues. It’s one way to get us to look at ourselves. It’s a way to get us to look at the self we don’t readily want to see. The old Adam and Eve self that says I want to know good and evil for myself. The brother Cain who kills the best part of himself when he takes his brother’s life and now really does know good and evil up close and personal and is pulled out of relationship with God as well. The book of Genesis witnesses to us how quickly we can and do turn from God. Giving thanks to God and giving thanks for each other is a beautiful discipline to draw us into relationship with each other.

I use a form an Ignatian prayer where I begin with seeing myself loved by God, created in God’s imagine and asking for God to shed light in this time of prayer. Then I give thanks and then I explore where I have drawn close to God and where I have pulled away from God and then I conclude with this: I resolve to be open to the changes you are calling forth from within and will help me to change.

When I was reading about this Ignatian form of prayer, someone said that the form is designed to open a person up with God’s love and a sense of thankfulness so that we can do the hard work of exploring and looking at the areas where we pull away from God. I have found this to be true. I need to be soften a bit, so that I can really take a good look at myself and see the sinner that I am and admit to the brokenness that God wants to redeem and heal so that God’s love and grace can shine through. I am thankful for this process.

As a community of faith this month will give us ample opportunity to give thanks. We begin with All Saints Sunday, by giving thanks to all those who have die, who have gone before us and left their impressions upon us and we give thanks for the newly baptized who remind us of the new life that God is about. We will give thanks for our 9th grade students; Alex Kimura, Sage Marks and Alex Rohm who will confirm their faith. We will work together to pack meals for Take Away Hunger and then sit down and enjoy a thanksgiving meal together on November 18. On Christ the King Sunday we will welcome our new Director of Music Ministries, Kevin Edens and welcome our 5th graders to the table for Holy Communion.

O give thanks to the Lord for he is good and his mercy endures forever. Giving thanks opens us to receive God’s mercy when we know that we deserve God’s justice. O give thanks to the Lord for he is good.

Believing It Boldly Loving Everyday,

Pastor Connie Spitzack

October 2018

Greetings to the Holy People of God,

I once was blind but now I see. Are you familiar with that line from the hymn, “Amazing Grace”? Our Lead Team is asking you to take an adventure with us of writing your story of how the Holy Spirit has been working in your life. I wouldn’t ask you to take that risk without going there with you. So here’s a bit of my story, a practice run for me. I offer it, so that you may take the risk and write your story and then share your story at the Story Telling Retreat on October 6. Or if you are unable to make the retreat, please tell your story to someone you trust.

I was changed from being depressed to being joyful. I think I first began to recognize it with a simple devotional exercise, where the leader of the retreat asked me to imagine God looking at me with eyes of love. I know how to look at someone with eyes of love and it was a wonderful experience for me to imagine the loving gaze of God upon me and to just bask in God’s love. It was an exercise I did for many weeks and I continue to do. I tend to look to the negative side of things. My attention is drawn there. And with my attention drawn to the negative of what could go wrong or how to improve, or be strategic, I was missing the joy of moments that drifted before me. With my focus on the negative, I was also more prone to fear, frustration and resentment which does not leave much room for joy.

The Holy Spirit was persistent with this process of transformation. It was at Epiphany, the second Sunday in January, where I put a bunch of Epiphany words in a basket. These words would act as a star to guide us through the year. Words like love, support, hope, and friendship. The word that I drew out of the basket was the word “JOY”. This was to be the word that would guide me through the year.

I had a Christmas ornament, made out metal, rough in texture but yet sparkling that I kept before me and then I came across a devotion that talked about gritty joy. Yes that fit as I struggled to look for joy in the midst of the grittiness of life. So where I would first focus on the negative of a situation, the light of joy helped me to see more. The light of joy gave me more depth perception and helped me to be kinder and more patience. My capacity to love grew as I trusted God’s love for me and so did my joy.

I experienced this gritty joy, this transformation most clearly in my relationship with Gary. Do you remember Gary? About 4 years ago, I met Gary because he had taken up residence in King Park. So often I was exasperated, wanting to help, wanting to fix rather than just walking with him and living with the gritty joy of our relationship. The church became his address and my cell phone the number he would put down as contact information because Gary is homeless. So I was pulled into many conversations and realized that I was one of the stable people in Gary’s life. He trusted me.

What does this have to do with joy? I thought of Paul’s rejoicing in his letter to the Philippians from jail. There is a joy there that is beyond Paul’s ability that comes from God. Gary lives in a prison of sorts, with mental illness that keeps him out of a home for himself and yet he so wants to help others. We have an ongoing conversation about loving your neighbor as yourself. Gary loves his neighbor more than he loves himself. He would rather help fix a neighbor than do the hard work of caring for and loving himself. I can be like that too. It’s a hard journey. But God is faithful and joy helps to guide me. A joy that is not of my own making but a joy that is complex and complicated. It is a gritty joy that lives in the roughness of this world, where we are broken, where we each live in a sort of prison. Our confession says it well, “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” And the joy, the gritty joy is found in Jesus coming to us in our brokenness.

I can’t fix Gary. And I don’t know where he is most of the time. But I can walk with him for a time on this journey of brokenness and gritty joy because Jesus walks with us, meeting us in the depression, in the negative and in the places where all seems hopeless. The Holy Spirit has given me a joy that is not my own and a joy that I can share with you. You gave me the environment in which to cultivate this relationship. Because CTK has an Emergency Fund.

Pray with me this prayer that has become a favorite of the Lead Team and blessings to you as you put together your story.

O God you have called your servants to ventures on which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Believing It Boldly Loving Everyday,

Pastor Connie Spitzack