Down the Mountain
Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." Matthew 17:4 (NRSV)
Peter is ecstatic. He has experienced a moment that transcends all others in his life. It is a holy moment that reveals to him the power and majesty and awe of Jesus as he witnesses the transfiguration. It is his mountaintop experience. He wants to stay there on top of the mountain alongside Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Who wouldn’t? Can you imagine the theological dialogue that would have taken place? It must have been quite a discussion to witness. (It would put Pub Theology to shame!) In the presence of these three titans of the faith, the sense of peace and the power of the presence of the Lord would have infused every molecule of Peter’s being. It is no wonder he didn’t want to leave.
It is fully part of our human condition that we want to keep and preserve things so that they will stay the same, and we can experience the joy and happiness to which we are accustomed. But life is never really like that. As much as we would like to stay on the mountaintop, we also have to descend to the lowlands. Peter had to come down from the mountain in order for Jesus’ ministry and mission to be fulfilled. If Jesus stayed up on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, humanity would not have received the benefit of the resurrection. The world would not have been blessed by the passionate ministry of Peter and the apostles if Peter had stayed on the mountaintop.
Like Peter, I am facing my own journey from the mountaintop into the valley of uncertainty. My time at Calvary will end on the 31st of May. It has been a wonderful journey of discovery. It has been transformational for me as I have
discovered my pastoral identity, been challenged to improve my preaching, and have experienced wonderful and fruitful dialogue about all things theological at Pub Theology and in private conversation. More importantly, I have been welcomed into a community that has allowed me to grow, has enthusiastically supported my seminary journey, has gently corrected me when I have made mistakes (and accepted my profound apologies!), and has welcomed me into the sacred narrative of their lives. Who wouldn’t want to stay in a place like that?
Like Peter, I have to remember that God’s plans are not my own. My sorrow at leaving this fellowship is tempered by the many pleasant and fond memories of my time here and the people with whom serving in ministry was such a joy. I am sure that Peter’s memory of the transfiguration sustained and uplifted him when he found doubt or trouble. I am sure that my memories of ministry and the people of Calvary will sustain me when I am faced with doubt and insecurity. My time at Calvary has been transformational. I cannot say thank you enough to express what Calvary has meant to me and my family.
I would put up a tent and I would stay, but God is calling me down the mountain, to the next chapter of my life. I know that my leaving also allows others to experience the wonderful community of people here at Calvary, and in turn they will be blessed and learn and grow from their adventures in ministry. I am excited to see the next chapter in Calvary’s life and I know that with God’s help it will continue to be a blessing to Federal Way and the surrounding areas.
Yours in Christ,
13 The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?’ 15 Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.’ 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘What you are doing is not good. 18 You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. 19 Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people
After God had liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, life shifted for the people. No longer bound by the daily drudgery of someone else dictating their days, now they had to learn to get along with each other in freedom. So Moses shifted from being their liberator to being their arbiter—he “judged” the people, that is, settled their disputes with each other.
The Bible is full of stories about God’s people needing to shift gears and adapt to new circumstances. (See Acts 6 for the story of the apostles seeking lay leaders to coordinate community social services, for another example.) It’s what the faithful need to do: Read the times, evaluate the demands on leadership, and adjust. That’s a change you will see happening in Calvary’s leadership this year too.
On February 10, at the first meeting of the 2015 Church Council, the Council elected four people into leadership on the Management Team: Paula Fowler, President; Larry Reintsma, Vice President; Pam Prescott, Secretary; and Jackie Russo, Member at Large. Sounds pretty typical so far, but take a closer look (if you are at all inclined to read council minutes, that is), and you will see that we are asking these leaders to take on specific responsibilities that we hope will lighten the load for everyone. Paula will preside at the Council meetings and provide leadership for both the Management Team and Council, but Paula will be assisted in her presidential responsibilities by Jackie Russo, who will develop the Management Team agenda and the preliminary Council agenda each month and preside at Management Team meetings. Our hope is that “many hands make for lighter work.” I also feel confident that many minds committed to the task will make for more creative and collaborative leadership—which will benefit us all. Larry will be giving special attention to the task calendar items that affect personnel and budget planning for the congregation. And Pam will serve as our veteran secretary, making sure we say what we are doing, and do what we say we want to get done.
Paula, Jackie, Larry, and Pam have committed themselves to these tasks. And now they need our support, encouragement, and feedback. The work that they have before them will sometimes be daunting—they are acting both as church leaders and as (State of Washington) corporation leaders. But they have accepted their respective responsibilities because they love this congregation, and they want to see Calvary thrive. Please pray for them in their leadership. Please pay attention when they ask for your support and expertise.
When Moses followed his father-in-law Jethro’s advise (and God’s command) to let others “bear the burden” with him, not only was Moses’ load lightened, but the people benefitted. May this new way of leading not only lighten our leaders’ burdens, but set the tone for shared leadership and greater creativity in all our ministry and life together at Calvary.
Thanks be to God.
Your Sister in Christ,
Pastor Lori Cornell
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38
We are blessed that we belong to a community and a fellowship of believers who can freely join together on Sunday mornings to praise God and to hear the promise of salvation proclaimed to us in Word and sacrament. But what about those people who have never darkened our door? How do we share the life-changing message of hope and peace that we have come to know so well? What if I don’t feel comfortable talking about my faith?
I have heard someone recently describe the act of public witness as one of becoming a “Gospel Ninja.” Think about it, ninjas blend in to their surroundings. They don’t draw undue attention to themselves because they have a mission to complete. They train themselves to be ready for any situation. They are able to slip in and out without anyone noticing. Yet they leave an indelible impression with their presence and their actions.
Imagine if we took this mentality into our public ministry. Blending in with the people we live and work beside, we would stealthily offer kindness and patience to those we encounter; providing a listening ear to the person sitting next to us on the bus; giving a little more generous tip to the
harried server at the busy restaurant; offering to pray for an acquaintance or even a stranger who shares a fear or concern with us.
We don’t have to stand on the street corner with a bullhorn or picket signs that proclaim our faith. We can quietly and powerfully witness to our community and our families by being people who live out what we talk about in church on Sunday mornings. The power of the gospel is most evident when it is transformed from empty words into tangible actions.
It’s harvest time. There are plenty of people in Federal Way and Western Washington who are in need of some good news.
I Believe - Help My Unbelief
Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24
“I believe; help my unbelief!” This is the plea a desperate father makes to Jesus. It is startling in its honesty and its confession. There is a misconception that as Christians we can never have doubt, that our belief must be resolute and never waiver. The fact is that there are plenty of crises that we face on a daily basis that can challenge our faith. To be human is to encounter sickness, suffering, disaster, and despair. We ask ourselves why these things happen. We want to know why God would allow good people to suffer.
The kinds of experiences that shake our faith to the core are also the kinds of experiences that can shape our faith life and help it to grow stronger. In his book Messy Spirituality, Mike Yaconelli describes these kinds of events as opportunities for us to experience spiritual growth in a whole new way. We tend to label these times when we feel like we are low on belief as if they are a bad or negative thing. Instead of feeling God has abandoned us or isn’t answering our prayers, Yaconelli encourages us to think of those times as periods of quiet reflection, an opportunity to listen and discern what God would have us do.
Even with the attitude that a crisis of faith is an opportunity for spiritual growth, it can be difficult to believe that God is present in the midst of our struggles with fear and doubt. How can we find quiet and contemplation when our minds are racing a million miles a minute? We want to know where God is. We want to know the reason something has happened. Where is God in the midst of our suffering? God is present in the hands of a caretaker who gently nurses the terminally ill. God is present in the friend or neighbor who sits with us and shares in our suffering. Sometimes it’s our own fault for making poor choices. Sometimes, there is no good reason, no enduring explanation of why God would allow something to happen.
But God does not abandon us to doubt and pain. God does not let us suffer without hope of renewal. The God we know through Jesus Christ understands our suffering. Because Christ chose to suffer on the cross on our behalf, chose to put on our frail human flesh and walk along side of us, we have a God who shows us that there is possibility where nothingness once existed. The women who went to the tomb on that early Easter morning had lost all hope — until they found that the death of their hope for the future was alive and well and amongst the living.
We will face many trying times. Like the father of the demon-possessed child, we may feel trapped. But as we journey through the valley of the shadow of doubt and uncertainty, we know that we only need to cry out and ask for help, and we will receive it. We may not feel like we fully believe, but we will be provided plenty of opportunity to have our belief strengthened by a loving and compassionate God who brings life and faith and hope in unexpected places.
This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43:16, 18-19
There is a very old joke in which a customer walks in to an antique shop and asks, “What’s new?” One of the tasks that we face as people of faith is making the very old story of redemption through Christ inviting for new ears to hear. How can we make church less intimidating for those who are on our periphery, and more inviting? How can we answer questions about faith in a setting that is not imposing? How can we share the important message of life and forgiveness in the gospel without beating people over the head with the scripture stick? How can we make “church” new?
The world that we live in today is full of people who are searching for meaning. Many of them describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. When you live in a culture where independence and individuality are prized, it can be difficult to engage people in a faith dialogue without driving them away or making them feel judged. We know that God is active in and with our community in other places than just the four walls of our church building.
With all of these dynamics in mind, I am excited to announce the first meeting of Theology on Tap. On January 31st, at 6:00 pm Calvary will be hosting a free flowing discussion of theological ideas at the Scoreboard Pub in Federal Way, 1200 S 324th St, Federal Way 98003. Anyone 21 and over is invited to join us. There are no questions or topics pertaining to life and faith that are off limits. Theology on Tap will be a safe place where burning questions about God, faith, and family can be addressed. And it will be in a non-traditional setting, a place most people would not associate with Christians.
I’m sure that some people may be wondering whether it is appropriate for us to meet in a bar and discuss issues of faith. Scripture tells us that wherever two or more people are gathered in Christ’s name that he is present. There is no better place for people to encounter Jesus than in the real world. Jesus was the master at meeting people in unexpected and new ways. We don’t know the impact our group may have on someone overhearing our conversations. They may even want to join in. That would certainly be a new way for us to increase our fellowship.
I encourage you to think about friends and family you want to invite to join us. Think of someone who may not come to church with you, but may go out for good food and good conversation. We may make some new friends and we will strengthen old friendships. It is a new thing, a path that has not been tried before, a way for us to enter into the wilderness and to seek the company of Christ along our journey. This is one of the many ways that Calvary is working to spread the Good News in the New Year and beyond.
In His name,
Rev. Lori A. Cornell