But [the angel] said to [the women at the tomb], "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:6-8
I am a huge fan of TEDTalks. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, & Design. TEDTalks are brief presentations (see youtube.com or NPR.org)—that are made all over the world, by people from all over the world. They highlight cutting-edge discoveries and how those discoveries can be applied to our lives. One of the presenters, Amy Cuddy, a psychologist in the Harvard School of Business, presents her findings on “Power Poses”: People who strike bold, open postures (envision the Wonder Woman stance here) have greater confidence and, in fact, actually improve their brain chemistry, not to mention that others respond to them positively. In fact, these postures actually can convince “the poser” that she is as strong as her posture indicates. Add her smile to that pose and she can command a room. Some might call this a “fake-it-till-you-make-it” mindset. Science and human experience seem to indicate that it works.
When the women (in Mark’s Easter Gospel) approach Jesus’ tomb, they are convinced that the only thing ahead of them is death. They are down trodden and disappointed; overwhelmed by grief. When the angel tells them things have changed—that “Jesus is Risen!,” their posture changes from grief to fear. Apparently the news is too good to be true. Most scholars agree Mark’s Easter story ends at verse 8, “they said nothing … they were afraid.” Ugh. It seems that Mark wanted his Roman congregation to see the mystifying paralysis that the women displayed and then to question it: Why did the women stay silent?! Jesus has risen—they should be standing tall and shouting the good news from the rafters: Christ is alive!
I wonder what newcomers think when they come to Calvary on Easter or any other Sunday. Do they see people who are moved by the joy of the resurrection, or do they see something different? (This is not to say that each of us doesn’t bring our individual challenges and wounds with us, while we experience this joy. It is to say that Christ’s resurrection makes room in our hearts for more than that sorrow.) When we greet people at Calvary’s front doors, when we pass the peace during worship, when we interact with our brothers and sisters between or after services, what do those newcomers see? What do they hear?
The women at the tomb held onto their fear and it resulted in nothing good: Peter and the other disciples didn’t know that Jesus had risen, or that they were to go to Galilee to meet him. The same reality is true for us: If we respond to Jesus’ resurrection—and to life itself—with fear, nothing and nobody will be changed for the better. Disciples will not gather around the risen Jesus, and people’s lives will not be transformed. The message we have been entrusted with will not be heard, and even those already here will grow discouraged and lose their focus on Christ.
But …. Here’s the wonderful surprise: The women didn’t remain fearful. The good news created a balm to heal their wounded souls, and went to work on their tongues. How do we know this? Well, you’re here aren’t you? You’ve heard the news that Christ rose from the grave for you at Easter. Which means that those women spoke, and told one generation who then told another generation, all the way down to ours … that Jesus is risen. And now you, like those women, have a choice: To live in fear and silence, or to be claimed by the resurrection.
May I make a gentle suggestion? Choose to live out your faith boldly here at Calvary. Stand tall in the gospel. Lift high the cross!
Assume the power pose of faith: Arms wide open to the world, mouths open with praise, and hearts lifted to God. If it’s true what Amy Cuddy says about power poses, this posture will help you to live confidently in faith, it will lift your spirits, and it will engender confidence in any newcomers who enter this place. Don’t let the fear of diminishing resources or attendance imprison your imagination. Instead, stand firm and reach your arms to the sky, trusting that Christ will fill this congregation with enough love, mercy, smarts, and resources to do the work of the Gospel.
A church that stands confident in Christ’s resurrection, that’s willing to risk and stretch and grow—that’s what the world needs. And your confidence in Christ will instill confidence in newcomers, and convince them that this is the place they want to be to hear the Easter good news. Please join me and your other leaders at Calvary in assuming a power pose for the sake of the Gospel: Christ Is Risen! He Is Risen, Indeed!
Your Sister in Christ,
Lori A. Cornell
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1
I love summer! I love spending more time outdoors than in. I love getting all sweaty hiking or running or working in the yard, and then jumping into a cool shower or a refreshingly cold lake. I love summer deluges of rain and thunderstorms followed by cool nights. I love sleeping under a single sheet with no blankets and waking to the early morning sun.
I don’t know about you, but I may have to be dragged kicking and creaming into my fall clothes. You may have to tap me on the shoulder and invite me out of my summer daydreams to join you in the realities of fall.
But what great activities we have in store for you this fall…
Day of Service On Saturday, September 6, we head into our fall season with a day at the Federal Way Farmer’s Market. We will be handing out water bottles with the Calvary logo on them, inviting families to join us for worship and learning, and providing school supplies and comfort kits to kids for school. The band will play, puppets will be performing, and your hospitality and support will make it a great day.
Coming Attractions Let the forums begin! On September 7, leaders from the congregation will give you a preview of upcoming events for the fall—namely, stewardship and the annual financial plan for 2015, the beginnings of a capital campaign, and our 60th Anniversary celebrations. Come learn more about Calvary’s mission and vision.
Creating Welcome On September 14, we begin a series on how to be more intentional about
welcoming newcomers: “Creating Welcome” is the theme for this three-week forum series. We will talk, walk through practical exercises to raise our awareness of how to welcome, and hear from a panel of people who have experienced welcome here at Calvary.
Love and Marriage Dovetailing on our “Welcome” series, we will be discussing Marriage in the October Adult Forum. The Marriage Policy Task Force, which convened last spring to facilitate conversations within the congregation about Calvary’s marriage policy, will help us begin to make sense of what it means to be a Lutheran congregation in a state in which same-sex marriage is legal. Currently, our congregation has no set policy about gay marriage. Our special guest for this conversation will be Bishop Rick Jaech, who will join us to preach, and will lead the October 19 Forum.
And the Band Plays On Our own Tony Willing and his Portage Fill Big Band will headline Calvary’s Anniversary Outreach Fundraiser for Reach Out on Saturday, October 25. We are inviting friends and members of the Federal Way community to join us in raising funds to benefit our winter homeless shelters and celebrate our 60th Anniversary with a lot of big band music and swing dancing. (Oh, come on, you know you want to!) Save some room and collect your pennies, because the Dessert Auction that night will feature delicious, sometimes-sophisticated creations by our own members, friends, and a few local businesses. Yum! So invite friends; ask people you work with or work out with; heck, welcome some strangers—and join us for this celebration. Can’t wait to get my swing on!
Okay, maybe fall will be easier to adjust to than I’d anticipated. I’m getting excited already. (But now that I’m done writing this article, it’s time to dream of white sand beaches and tropical fish for a few more days…)
Looking forward to getting back in season with you.
Your sister in Christ,
Rev. Lori A. Cornell
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” I Corinthians 3:6
Paul is frustrated with his congregation. They are taking sides, showing favorites, pitting one pastor against another: “For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human?” The Corinthians were quarreling when, Paul says, they should have been banding together to do the work God has given them: to plant seeds of faith so that other new believers can enjoy faith in Christ.
Isn’t that the way life in the church goes? We get sidetracked. We start thinking about and declaring our personal preferences. We get tripped up on the small stuff. And we forget that the reason we’re together in the first place is because the Holy Spirit has called us together to be a church in mission.
Paul’s words, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth,” are a simple but powerful reminder that the work we do is a coordinated effort that requires us to appreciate how everyone contributes to the cause. Paul knew that his job was to plant seeds of faith in Corinth. He knew that he might not be around when the seeds he had planted took root, pushed up through the soil, and grew and flowered.
Paul came to expect that his efforts weren’t the only efforts that would matter. When he spoke Christ’s love to the people at Corinth he understood that he might not see the full fruit of his work. So he relinquished control and conceded that God’s work depended on others too—people like Apollos (who was, no doubt much to Paul’s chagrin, evidently a more eloquent preacher than Paul). Paul confessed that it takes the collective efforts and talents of a whole faith community—like many gardeners in a community garden—to see growth in faith.
So what part will you play in growing this garden of faith? Are you a planter? Are you a waterer? How will you contribute to helping others experience the love of Christ? Perhaps you have friends who aren’t connected to a faith community. Maybe you have a child who isn’t connected to a church. Maybe you find yourself at lunch with a coworker who is disillusioned with the church, and you could offer them a different vision of what the church can be like.
Thinking about how you can contribute is only the first step though. Look around you at Calvary: How do you see others cultivating faith? Identify the gifts of those around you and tell them what you see in them: “Diana, you are so good at identifying new people and helping them to feel welcome.” “Al, your hugs make me feel loved, and I want to share that love with others.” “Jan, you are so good at looking newcomers in the eye, and helping them to feel like they are genuinely seen.”
People of Calvary: We have gifts, we have been given to each other as a gift, and we have the gift of the gospel to share. Christ calls us, he commands us, he entrusts us with planting faith in Federal Way. May we plant, water, and then trust that God is giving growth that is about to erupt and blossom. Pray for it, contribute to it, and be ready to be amazed.
Your fellow gardener,
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:21-22
We contemporary churchgoers don’t face the kind of adversity that the first disciples faced: We live in a society that gives us freedom to practice whatever religion we see fit. We seldom have religious or political adversaries to contend with in our American culture. But the truth is that while we are free to choose how to express our faith, we are not exactly free to share that faith. Faith, and particularly, faith in Christ, is culturally understood as private. That means that while we may not have hostile opposition trying to do us harm, we may face the opposition of benign disinterest.
We may be free to express our faith—within the walls of the church, and behind the ladle at the soup kitchen—but we are not truly welcomed to share it with others. People who don’t go to church are uncomfortable when we try to share our faith with them. Maybe the topic just feels too personal. Or maybe the other truth is that we are so uncomfortable trying to share our faith, that we end up making others uncomfortable too.
But, the fact remains that Jesus nevertheless sends us: “So I send you.” And, if we hope to take our Easter faith seriously, it’s important for us to know what we can do to be ready to meet those to whom we are sent.
On the first Saturday in May your Council and a dozen-or-so other leaders will meet to talk about exactly that: With whom are we called to share the good news that God is at work breathing resurrection life into the world? And how can we best be ready to welcome them? Here are some thoughts….
Do you know any unchurched people? If the only people you associate with are church members, then this congregation may have a challenge. Church should be a place to develop deep and abiding friendships—and I know that Calvary has been the soil in which many important relationships have been cultivated. However, if all of our energy is directed inward (developing and refining ministries within the congregation and nurturing congregational friendships), then our members won’t have time or ability to get to know unchurched people. And if we don’t know unchurched people, how can we hope to have them feel welcomed here?
Are we ready to be non-judgmental? People who don’t frequent church speak a different language than people at church speak. They look at life differently. But change isn’t a precondition of baptism or church membership; change is something that happens as people grow in relationship to Christ. Jesus was ingenious in the way he approached people with very different life circumstances and beliefs than his, and loved them in a way that motivated them to change for the better. Are we ready to love rather than judge the unchurched?
Living with questions. We live in a world that raises more questions than we may have good answers for. We also live in a church that has been way too eager to give easy answers to tough questions. Are we ready to listen more and answer less quickly? Are we able to embrace people’s difficult questions, and by doing so embrace them?
Being honest about struggles. One of the most profound memories from when I was a teenager was hearing my pastor admit that he struggled in his faith. His honesty helped me to understand that I could struggle and still be part of the community of faith; that the church isn’t comprised of perfect people, and we know as much. Such honesty makes the church attractive to those who know struggle already, and know they need room for it in a place of worship.
Dump all assumptions. If we think that newcomers will walk through the doors of the church with a basic understanding of Christianity, or that they must “master” the basics before they become part of the fold, we will need to rethink that. Newcomers may know no more about Christianity than you know about Taoism. If our church hopes to grow, the question is not whether but how we will help newcomers to access faith within our community.
Embrace flexibility. If we hope to sustain new Christians in our midst, we will need to do more than host a rousing welcome and initiation into life at Calvary. Growth in faith is never “finished.” The more adaptable we are as a church community—particularly in our strategies for welcoming unchurched people—the better chance we will have of serving a changing community.
Having said all that, I invite your prayers and thoughtful consideration of how you might help to make Calvary a place of welcome to newcomers as well as those already here. Having served with you for 13 years, I can honestly say that this congregation has demonstrated an amazing amount of grace, adaptability, and resilience in the face of change. And I look forward to taking the ongoing journey toward being a community that welcomes others readily and makes Calvary a place of grace for all who enter here.
Your sister in Christ,
Pastor Lori Cornell
I recently discovered a fascinating podcast series from NPR, “On Being with Krista Tippett.” Tippett is the granddaughter of a Southern Baptist minister who, after scrutinizing her grandfather’s certitude in his conservative faith, decided to seek out her own personal sense of faith. The result is a radio series that began with the title, “Speaking of Faith” and morphed into “On Being”—which is her insatiable pursuit of the mysterious and divine in the lives of people from around the world.
One of the people whom Tippett interviewed is a famous Christian historian, Jaraslov Pelikan, who taught at Yale University for four decades before his death in 2006, and who wrote prolifically on the creeds of the Christian Church. Among his many profound observations, he made two that I find particularly helpful to our conversation for Lent: 1) Pluralism is not relativism. In a pluralistic society (with two or more religions coexisting) it is imperative that religions respectfully distinguish themselves from one another, not that they blend together and become indistinguishable; the Christian creeds help us to do that. And, 2) the creeds help us who are part of the church community to voice our beliefs collectively, and this corporate act shapes us individually also.
This we believe. By now you know that our theme for this Lent is “This I Believe.” One of our major objectives for these six weeks will be to equip each believer with words to better express her/his personal faith. But, contrary to some popular Christian opinion, faith does not reside solely in the individual Christian, but is also at work within the whole community. As we confess in the Apostles’ Creed together in worship, the Holy Spirit uses the “communion of saints” as a means for us to experience faith. Jaraslov Pelikan emphasizes this when he talks about the power of the Church’s creeds to shape the church and the believer. Christian creeds have existed ever since the New Testament was recorded. Sometimes those creeds were as simple as “Jesus is Lord.” Other times they were more complex: “Have the same mind in you that was in Christ, who though he was in the form of God did not account equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8). In every time creeds were not only spoken, but often sung. (We all have experienced the power of memory when words are put to music.) And at least since the 4th century, when the Nicene Creed was developed, creeds have been spoken by whole congregations in their worship. Such corporate confessions of faith shape not only the community but the individual believer who worships there.
More must be said about how the Holy Spirit works in community though. When we say that we believe in the “communion of saints,” we are saying more than that we think it’s important to gather for worship at church. We are confessing that the mystery of God is in part revealed as the community of believers gets together to hear God’s Word, participate in the sacraments, and pray together. Consider the profound implications of this in Martin and Katie Luther’s own personal crisis of losing their beloved 10-year-old daughter, Magdalen: Luther writes his friend Justus saying that he and Katie are beside themselves with grief, so much so that they are struggling to believe and to pray. Luther’s request to Justus: “So you pray for us and believe for us.” Luther didn’t think that he had to muster up all the faith he could find within himself. He trusted that the Spirit not only worked within him, but around him in other believers, and in the whole community as it gathered in various capacities.
If the Spirit creates faith through the community as our brothers and sisters pray on our behalf, what’s to keep the Spirit from creating a more whole faith as believers corporately confess the Apostles’ Creed?
Nadia Bolz Weber, a Lutheran pastor in Denver, Colorado, highlights how she witnesses the Spirit’s work in her community as they recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship: No worshiper at House for All Sinners and Saints, she explains, believes every part of the Creed completely all the time. Some may struggle with confessing the virgin birth, others with what it means to say that Jesus judges the living and the dead. But as their voices are joined together and the Holy Spirit is at work in their midst, together they share faith in the one triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Creed, in which Christians confess “I believe” together, is a means by which the Holy Spirit creates and renews faith in believers (for their own sake and for the sake of others). The confession, “I believe” is, by virtue of being spoken in the company of other believers and the Holy Spirit, also a confession of “we believe.”
Does the Creed say everything we need to say about our faith in God? No, of course not. But it is a good pulse on who we are as a community of believers (we believe), and it creates a firm foundation upon which our personal understanding of God is constructed (I believe).
May God bless and direct our conversation this Lent, so that we experience the rich distinctions of our faith, as well as the common bonds we can affirm with a world seeking to better understand God.
Your Sister in Christ,
Pastor Lori Cornell