Breathe with me

Breathe with me

Dear Friends,

Breathe with me. Slowly. For just a moment.

Inhale and say: “The Lord is my shepherd;”

Exhale and say: “I have all that I need.”

Changes in our country and in each of our lives are coming at us like baseballs. The virus continues its unsettling march through every organization, every family, every plan. The volatile economy threatens jobs and mortgages. Hungry people will soon grow hungrier. Sad people will soon be sadder. Families are separated by quarantine. And we? What do we, the people of God do?

Breathe. Breathe with me. Slowly. For just a moment.

Inhale and say: “You give me rest,”

Exhale and say: “and restore my soul.”

I write you with pastoral concern for your well-being, and with burdens for the many who rely on us for steady, faithful support.

As it grows increasingly clear that “business as usual” will not resume for weeks (I am grieving the very real possibility of a postponed Easter), I write with a heart open to you, our ministry partners, and all God’s people around the globe.

Breathe. Breathe with me. Slowly. For just a moment.

Inhale and say: “Even in the darkest place,”

Exhale and say, “I am not alone.”

For you.

Daily we receive messages from members of Ascension offering to run errands, deliver groceries, and make phone calls to those who are temporarily homebound. If you would like to be put in touch with a trustworthy Ascension friend to be your link to the world, let me know. We are happy to connect you with one another.

The Congregation Council met last night (by Zoom) and affirmed the following actions:

  • Staff will continue to be compensated without interruption
  • The facility will be closed to all activity
  • The Shine! tithe designated for our local food pantries will be distributed today

While the building is closed, phone calls will be routed directly to our office manager, Ami Frick, who will be in regular communication with me and the staff.

Vicar Julie Grafe and I will continue to provide pastoral care as we are able, even though we do not have access to hospitals or care facilities. Should you experience illness, disappointment, sorrow, or have a joy to share, please call one of us directly: my cell phone is 860.543.5564; Vicar Julie’s is 847.921.7036. Also, we will be “praying the directory” in the coming weeks, remembering each of you by name. If you have a specific request for our prayer, please let me know.

We are daily posting “Hymnal Handwashing Hits” to our Facebook page, and will post worship resources on our YouTube channel.

Since we cannot gather for worship, I encourage you to take advantage of daily worship offered remotely by the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC). Join them online, starting March 23, every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 11:15 a.m. (Central time) for daily worship led by Rev. Erik Christensen, pastor to the community, and the seminary’s chapel staff. Learn more on their website.

Ascension thrives because of your faithful support. Please, as you are able, continue to support our ministries, so that we continue to support those who rely on us, and keep our own ministry vital and sustainable.

Breathe. Breathe with me. Slowly. For just a moment.

Inhale and say: “Blessings flow over my head;”

Exhale and say, “even my enemies are loved.”

For our ministry partners.

The ministry partners to whom we have pledged our support are in desperate need of our ongoing attention. Rather than suspend our Lent Challenge, I challenge us to redirect and multiply it, focusing on food and shelter. Please, as you have the capacity, go directly to the websites of ministries with which we are already in relationship to provide for their needs:

A Just Harvest www.ajustharvest.org

Lutheran Social Services of Illinois www.lssi.org

Lutheran World Relief www.lwr.org

New Trier Township Food Pantry www.newtriertownship.com

Northfield Township Food Pantry www.northfieldtownship.com

The Night Ministry www.thenightministry.org

Breathe. Breathe with me. Slowly. For just a moment.

Inhale and say: “Goodness and mercy overwhelm me,”

Exhale and say, “today and every day.”

For all whom God loves. We Pray.

God, our peace and our strength,

we pray for our nation and the world

as we face new uncertainties in this time of pandemic.

Protect the most vulnerable among us,

especially all who are currently sick or in isolation.

Grant wisdom, patience, and clarity to health care workers,

especially as their work caring for others puts them at great risk.

Guide us as we consider how best to prepare and respond

in our families, congregations and communities.

Give us courage to face these days not with fear

but with compassion, concern, and acts of service,

trusting that you abide with us always;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Breathing easier,

Pastor JoAnn Post

PS On Thursday morning I received a delivery from our UPS driver at church, a pencil-thin man with about as much personality. For five years, he has been immune to my charming patter, my chipper greetings. But at the door yesterday morning, he wanted to talk. “You know, I’m a Christian, too. And I’ve been praying.” I was silent. He went on, “I’ve been praying for direction and the other day God spoke to me: ‘Take up your cross and follow Jesus,’” I nodded, piously. He went on: “And then a minute later, I received another answer to my prayer: ‘And don’t even start with me about the splinters!”  The Pencil spoke! With a joke! I’m still laughing. In spite of the splinters.

Loving Our Neighbor at a Distance

Loving Our Neighbor at a Distance

Dear Friends,

On Ash Wednesday, we welcomed you into Lent with these words:

As disciples of Jesus, we are called to a discipline that contends against evil and resists whatever leads us away from love of God and neighbor

All we do, as individuals and a congregation, emerges from and is inspired by love of God and neighbor. It is in that spirit that I write to share information about ways our congregation’s staff and leadership is acting in loving, faithful ways to respond to concerns for the physical, emotional and spiritual health of all who look to us for care and community during this emerging health crisis in our country.

We have decided to suspend Sunday worship for the next two weeks. However, Vicar Julie Grafe and I will be in the church building Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. to offer Bible study, prayer and communion for those who would like to join us. Additional ways to tap into worship opportunities will be provided.

All meetings and events will be suspended, as well. No choirs. No Godly Play. No Coffee Hour. No Bible studies. No Dinner Church. Technology may make it possible to conduct necessary meetings, or small groups may choose to meet on their own, but nothing “official” will take place in the church building.

The Church Office will keep regular office hours, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. I will be available to you at any time, as is already my practice.

While the closing of schools and offices is only an inconvenience for most, others of our neighbors will struggle to feed their families or care for their children in these weeks. As an extension of our love of neighbor, please consider an additional “offering” of food or money to our local Food Pantry.

A long-time friend who served as superintendent of a large East Coast school district spoke often of the way he made decisions about school closures because of inclement New England weather. The issue that always guided his decision-making was concern for the health and safety of his students, teachers and staff. Even if school buses could run, and buildings could be heated, and driveways could be plowed, should they be? If even one school bus slipped into a ditch or one school child was harmed in the cold, it would be too many. He regarded the Snow Day as a way to be a good neighbor to those in his care.

Perhaps we could consider this temporary time apart from one another as an extended Snow Day, a gift of safety and concern for one another as neighbors.

In summary:

There will be no public worship Sundays, March 15 and 22

There will be no meetings or events in the church building through March 27

The church office and staff will keep regular office hours

The Food Pantry and the elderly/ill need you to be a good neighbor

The Third Sunday of Lent finds us midway between the invitation of Ash Wednesday and the revival of the temporarily-silenced “Alleluia” of Easter. At this pivotal, unsettling moment in the Lent season and our lives, I leave you with the concluding words of that Ash Wednesday bid:

Let us continue our journey through these forty days to the great Three Days of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Loving God and You, my Neighbors,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

To Your Health

To Your Health

Dear Friends,

No matter where I turn this week, news (both credible and unsubstantiated) about the threat of this winter’s viruses is everywhere. With your permission, let me use this space this week to share information about Ascension’s practices and concerns during this season:

Healthy in Worship

Recommendations for Worship Practice during Flu Season

Ascension’s Executive Team shares a few recommendations about our life together during this time of heightened concern about viruses and the spread of disease. Before offering suggestions, please know that our congregation’s leadership is aware of and monitoring best practices, that we want you to be comfortable with our practice, and that we encourage you to do what you need to do in order to feel and stay safe.

Washing Hands

Soap and water are the best sanitizers; hand sanitizer is useful when soap and water are not available.

Sharing the Peace

You are welcome to exchange the peace—or not—in any manner that is comfortable to you. Perhaps during this season, we would exchange a fist or elbow bump, a “peace sign” to our neighbors, or an intentional nod of recognition.

Receiving Communion

We will continue to offer bread and wine as in the past, however, the method in which you receive is entirely up to you.

  1. If you don’t wish to receive the cup, that is okay.
  2. If you don’t wish to drink from the cup, intinction is okay.
  3. If you wish to drink from the cup, know that our servers are careful to make sure the cup is sanitary for the next worshipper.

Home may be the safest place if you are feeling ill or compromised

If you cannot join us for worship, you may access my sermon manuscript by logging on to our website and clicking on “Communications. ” You can watch the sermon by clicking on the “Sermons” box on the splash page. (The videoed sermon is often not posted until Monday.)

In Other News

Sunday is Time Change Sunday—all our clocks spring forward one hour.

Please join our Vitality Talk, Sunday, at 9:30 a.m. during which we welcome Rev. Brittany Caine-Conley, Community & Congregational Relations Coordinator, and Maggie Shiflett, Coordinator for Foundation & Corporate Relations with The Night Ministry.

The Lent Challenge is on, with opportunities for all ages to support The Night Ministry. Last week our Godly Play children collected $47.20 in their coin boxes. Their generosity is inspiring!

In order to prepare for Worship on Sunday, you may wish to read the scripture texts for the Second Sunday in Lent in advance:

Genesis 12.1-4a: The blessing of God upon Abram

Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills.”

Romans 4.1-5, 13-17: The promise to those who share Abraham’s faith

John 3.1-17: The mission of Christ is the save the world

On Sunday afternoon we are delighted to welcome Cornelius and Inah Chiu and Family as guests on our “One Tree Many Branches” series. The concert is at 4:30 p.m. with a reception following.

My prayers are full these days, as I bring our needs and the needs of the world before God. I pray healing in all its forms, strength for all who are weak, wisdom for all in leadership, and hope for all the hopeless.

Be well,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

 

 

Put ’em up!

Put ’em up!

Dear Friends,

His defenses were down. I dropped my Subaru off at the shop late yesterday afternoon. It has developed a loud noise and occasional thump in the rear, and needs to be looked at. Kevin at the service desk, ordinarily courteous and professional, was anything but. “Hey, Mrs. Post. What’s up with the car?” I told him about the funny noise and he asked me to describe it. I said, expecting a smile, “It sounds like money.”

Exasperated sigh. “You and everybody else. You think we work for free? You think it’s easy what we do? I’m guessing it’s your wheel bearings and it won’t be cheap. But we got’ta pay the guys for their work.”  And then he caught himself. “I’m sorry. I haven’t eaten anything all day and the service manager went home sick at noon and I’m all by myself and it’s been a day.”

We’ve all been there. We’ve all been so tired or so scared or so hungry or so overworked that all our defenses collapse, our filters falter, and we are not our best selves. Kevin walked me to the service door and I asked, “Can you head home soon?” “Yeah, I’m looking forward to a cold beer and the Blackhawks on TV. But they’re gon’na lose, too. Geez. What a day. What else can go wrong?”

His defenses were down. (Matthew 4.1-11) Fresh from baptism, the Spirit whisked Jesus into the wilderness for a 40-day vision quest. Alone, unsheltered and unfed for weeks, Jesus had nothing left. It was then, at his lowest moment, that Satan swooped in with offers too good to be true, a veritable Ron Popeil with his Pocket Fisherman. Tempting Jesus with bread, with power, with real estate, Satan clearly thought he had the upper hand. He would not have been wrong. What would have been the harm if Jesus turned just one little stone into a baguette? Who would have cared if he pre-empted the process and gathered all the glory that would eventually be his anyway? He could have skipped right over the suffering and death that lay ahead, mounted the temple spire rather than a cross, and claimed his rightful place as Son of God and Son of Man. Sort of.

But even in his diminished state, famished and frightened, Jesus knew he was, on his own, defenseless. He needed time to ponder. To remember who he was. To assemble his army. Reminding both Satan and himself of his true identity, his true purpose, his necessary path, Jesus quoted scripture back at a scripture-quoting Satan. You can almost hear the growing strength in his voice, see the squaring of his shoulders, the set of his jaw. Even in exhaustion, Jesus was able to dig deep into what remained of his store of strength, trusting God’s strength to be greater.

Please join us Sunday as we begin our own 40-day vision quest. We have planned a challenging and hopeful Lent, about which we will tell you more during worship. But here are a few reminders before we meet next:

Godly Play Children are collecting coins for The Night Ministry. Each week during Lent they will offer their coins, along with our regular offering. (Additional coin boxes are available.) Also, the Godly Play Children will close worship on Sunday with a sung blessing.

The Lent Tree shines in Fellowship Hall, inviting us to generosity for the Night Ministry. Our goal this Lent is to help furnish their new Crib, set to open in April.

All Ascension Reads expands our understanding of our roles in the world’s troubles, as we discuss The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh. The Lent Reading Group will have its first conversation around Joan Chittister’s The Gift of Years. Both discussions will take place after worship.

There is much to consider in Sunday’s gospel reading, and I am still studying it. One of the questions I am considering is this: Are our defenses down? I am thinking about the grave danger inherent in facing temptation alone, isolating ourselves from others’ strength, attempting battle already defeated and afraid. Our lives are hard enough without imagining we have to live them alone, defenses down.

Kevin promised a diagnosis of my Subaru by mid-morning. And I will pay whatever it costs–I drive cars until they collapse under me like a tired old horse in a John Wayne movie. I am certain that he will be himself today, courteous, professional, restored by an unexpected Blackhawks win (5-2 over the Tampa Lightning). And though I am not glad he had a terrible day yesterday, Kevin reminded me of something I learned from Jesus long ago: when our defenses are down, we call for help.

I’ve got your back.

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

Transfigured

Transfigured

Dear Friends,

It’s been a busy week here at Ascension, and I apologize for having only a quick minute to write you today.

On Sunday, we will celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord, a quirky “shoulder” Sunday between the seasons of Epiphany and Lent. In a scene reminiscent of both the gifting of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24.12-18) and Dr. Who (sans Flying Tardis), Jesus ascends a mountain with three trusted disciples, only to meet two long-dead Old Testament greats. Clouds. Voices. Time Travel. Visions. (Matthew 17.1-9) What can it mean? And how does Jesus’ Transfiguration inform both the season of revealing which we are just now leaving and the season of repenting before us?

At the end of worship, we will bid “Alleluia” farewell, with the artistic influence of our Godly Play children. After that, we will call the Annual Meeting to order. When that meeting is adjourned, coffee will be served.

We are also collecting last year’s Passion Sunday palms to be burned into Wednesday’s Ash Wednesday ashes. (Ask our confirmation students about our frigid Palm Burning Party Wednesday night.)

Please know that even when we are all flat-out busy or otherwise occupied, we remain connected through the vital ministry we share. The homeless find warmth. The hungry find food. The sinful find forgiveness. The hopeless find hope. And, in worship, we find ourselves transfigured in Jesus’ presence.

See you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post

Safe in God’s Heart

Safe in God’s Heart

Dear Friends,

Perusing the Valentines Day card display at my local Hallmark, I searched the racks for clever cards for my family and friends. Without thinking, I realized I was also searching for the elusive Valentine Birthday card for my Dad. (He was born on Valentines Day, 1932.) As happens so often these days, I have to remind myself (or am reminded) that my father has died, that I no longer have to hunt for the lone dual-purpose card suitable for my Dad’s sweetheart birthday.

My father and I never quite “got” each other. Though I never doubted his love for me, I often wondered about the way it was expressed. And he, in turn, couldn’t quite understand my life choices, the decisions I made. There were too many times when we did not speak, or when we exchanged harsh words, or when battle lines were drawn. But I know he loved me, in his way. And I, in turn, loved him in mine.

As I slowly, sadly, live into my status as a middle-aged orphan, I find it increasingly difficult to remember what it was we argued about, why we were so often at loggerheads. The details of our disputes, the rationale for our wrangling no longer seem to matter. Perhaps it is the gift of time that softens so many hard edges, or the gift of a faulty memory that can barely remember what I had for breakfast. Or maybe it is that he and I grew up in the same faith community, were shaped by the same faithful leaders, were schooled by the same scripture. Though separated by a generation, and wildly divergent in the paths we chose, we shared a common faith in the God of our ancestors and the Lord of life. And that common faith changed the way we viewed the world and each other.

On Sunday we continue our sermonic slog through the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5.21-37) Jesus abandons his broad-brush musing on his relationship to the law and the prophets to address specific issues about which we, brothers and sisters in the faith, still wrangle and argue. Dissatisfied with the then-common, often-simplistic interpretations of the Ten Commandments with regard to murder, adultery, divorce and duplicitous speech, he drills down on the specifics. Four times in Sunday’s gospel he begins his remarks with “You have heard it said, but I say to you . . .” In other words, Jesus will leave everyone offended.

He defines murder (commandment 5) as more than the “mere” taking of a life, but also as unrepentant anger. That is, slaying with speech is as destructive as with a weapon.

He defines adultery (commandment 6) as not only sexual infidelity, but also as a wandering eye or heart.

He defines divorce (commandment 6) as more than a legal proceeding, but as a decision with life-long consequences for all involved.

He defines the commandment against wrongful use of God’s name (commandment 2) by saying, “Let your yes, be yes. Your no, no.” In other words, be true to your word.

What does this have to do with me and my Dad? With you and those you love? With us in our life together?

The commandments still stand. As Jesus said just last week, “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.”  We do the commandments—and one another—a disservice when we limit their intent, soften their impact, exempt ourselves from their truth. We do equal damage when we torture ourselves about the particulars, punish ourselves for failing to live up to both the letter and the spirit of the law.

Here’s what Jesus asks of us: that we view the commandments as both a loving gift and a piercing light, a protective boundary and an honest mirror, a community decision and a personal quest.

I always look forward to our time together on Sunday mornings. Though during the week, we walk many different paths, grieve private failures, celebrate small victories, we come together as disciples willing to sit at Jesus’ feet. To listen. To learn. To be convicted. To be forgiven.

We have all violated both the broad intent of the law, and the daily challenges of life in community. Today I give thanks for my parents, for their faithfulness to one another, to our family, and to God. Today I give thanks for you and our community’s deep desire to live faithfully in large and small ways. Today I give thanks for God’s poor memory for sin, and long patience with us sinners who, inexplicably, have found our way into God’s heart.

See you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

 

Like church?

Like church?

Dear Friends,

“It was like church.”

A grieving pastoral colleague was reflecting on the first LA Lakers game after the death of Kobe Bryant last week. I didn’t see the game on TV, but I understand it was deeply emotional and moving. The lights were lowered. Testimonials were offered. Songs were sung. Photos were displayed. Sorrow was shared. I can imagine that the event might have hinted at some elements of worship, and perhaps was as close to “church” as many had experienced in a while.

My colleague is not the first to compare a sports event to congregational worship. Years ago, a social scientist (whose name and research has been lost to me) observed that if we were to count “worshippers” on Sunday mornings by virtue of cars in parking lots, most people “worship” at the shopping mall or the sports stadium. There are lots of reasons—cultural, generational, economic and personal—for shifting attendance patterns from centers of worship to centers of commerce or sport. And while I don’t begrudge people the decisions they make on Sunday mornings, I hesitate to say that shopping or sporting is “like” church.

So, with no disrespect to Mr. Bryant, or professional sports, or my colleague’s very real grief, there are differences between shared grief over a significant public figure and shared worship of the unique person Jesus Christ.

On Sunday Jesus will also challenge the “like church” metaphor, with definitive statements about the true identity of his followers.

Here’s what Jesus sees when he looks at us. “You are salt. You are light.”

Centuries of ink have been spilled describing how Jesus’ disciples are LIKE salt, and LIKE light, but that’s not what Jesus says. Jesus doesn’t give us metaphors. He gives us identities.

We ARE salt.

We ARE light.

Those are bold statements. A Marvel Comics friend would call these our Super Powers. What does Jesus mean?

Jesus means that his followers (and his church) are unapologetic and unambiguous about their true purpose, their true identities. Salt’s primary characteristic is saltiness. Light’s primary characteristic is luminosity. Jesus’ followers’ primary characteristic is faithfulness. To his mission. Without hesitation. Without hedging. Without humiliation.

This “super power” does not give us permission to be judgmental, or rigid, or small-minded. Instead, our super power, our identity as Faithful, opens us to the world in all its variety, hope in its transformative power, sorrow in its heart-breaking depths.

On Saturday, we open our hearts and ears to the next concert in our One Tree, Many Branches series: Keri Johnsrud and the Kevin Bales Quartet singing the songs of Mr. Rogers. Ms. Johnsrud styles children’s tunes into smooth jazz for all ages. Please join us for the concert at 4:30 p.m., and a reception afterward.

Please join us Sunday. In addition to Children’s Music (9:30 a.m.), Godly Play (9:45 a.m.) and Worship (10 a.m.) we will participate in Scout Sunday. All scouts, current and former, are invited to wear their uniforms (or the parts that might still fit) and to be honored for their commitment to scouting’s promises.

While other organizations, individuals and activities meet important needs in peoples’ lives, they are not “like church,” any more than, because we provide food, beverage and seating, we are “like Panera.” We are Jesus’ body in the world.

We are like salt.

We are like light.

We are like disciples—faithful to the one in whose name we are privileged to serve.

See you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post