Trusting God to Care for Us

Businesses are reopening with new safety measures in place, so the question naturally arises: When will we go back to in-person worship at Esperanza?

The simple answer is that we could begin gathering in small groups for outdoor worship services, keeping our distance from one another and avoiding singing. But at this time of year we would have to meet between midnight and 7 a.m. to avoid losing worshipers to heat stroke! And even then, the most vulnerable people in our congregation would, very appropriately, stay away. That’s the very best we could do face-to-face: a very limited worship service at an awkward time of day, with only a subset of the congregation able to consider participating. For now, I think it is better to put our efforts into gathering online (see below for information on finding online worship and Zoom communion and coffee hour) and staying in touch by online chat or phone.

What about those fellowship occasions outside of Sunday morning that have so enriched our lives? Our Inviting & Welcoming and Fellowship Teams are cooking up some plans for fresh new fellowship opportunities when we can get together physically again. Right now, however, you might consider a baby step toward that longed-for normalcy. Some of us are meeting for dinner with one other Esperanza family, dining in the driveway at a good distance from one another. If you think this is safe for you, please consider it. If you need contact information for an Esperanza friend, please call Joni at the office or email her.

Here’s something that’s always possible: Praising God through our acts of love and service—for one another and for our neighbors in need. Feeding ministries, collecting supplies for the Navajo Nation, donating food and other needed items for local neighbors: all this gives glory to God just as surely as we give glory to God when we sing a hymn together on Sunday.

We trust God to care for us. We know that the ravages of this virus are not God’s will for any of us. But God sends help for us in everyday ways, far more often than the miraculous, right? God uses the Centers for Disease Control, the state and county health departments and your primary care physician to care for us. We are wise, I think, to heed what they say.

For anyone who is interested, you can read the thoughts of our Grand Canyon Synod Bishop, Hutterer, in a recent letter here.

Grace, peace, and health to you all, in Jesus’ name.

Pastor Carol

Transitions Within Transitions

It’s with regret that I write to let everyone at Esperanza know that I will be leaving you earlier than anticipated, most likely in mid-July. But it’s with relief that I tell you that the synod staff (specifically, Bishop Deborah Hutterer and Pastor Mark Holman) have identified good options for pastoral leadership for Esperanza between my departure and the arrival of your next regularly called pastor.

All will be well at Esperanza, but I do regret that you have to go through yet another transition.

Bishop Hutterer has asked me to take a longer-term interim assignment with a congregation in Tucson. As many of you know, Tucson is my home, so a chance to serve in my own city is optimal. I begin at the new church on August 1, sharing a full-time position with my husband, Fred–him one-quarter-time and me three-quarter time.

I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy my time at Esperanza, even this time when I can’t physically be there. It’s been encouraging to see how smoothly you-all went through the first steps of the call process and good to know that the call committee is ready to begin its work. I look forward to the rest of my time with you and hope to make the most of it!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Carol

Do Something Useful

I watched my mom go through a long period of adjusting to “not being useful” after a lifetime of sitting down only when there was desk work to do (she did sit down for meals, but then she’d jump up to replenish someone’s plate or drink). When Dad died and she moved into a place where meals were provided, she was left with hours of the day not spoken for, but she found it unnatural to do something during the day just because she wanted to.

She felt she wasn’t useful anymore—and, if not useful, then not valuable.

Maybe some of you reading this are feeling some of that right now. There is the basic reality that we can all be most helpful to each other by staying home, which is a pretty passive way to help. Then, for those of us who are on the older side, we’re really not even encouraged to shop for someone or stop by someone’s house to give a Zoom tutorial. Sidelined is how it feels. It’s like being patted on the arm and told, “You know what you can do to be really helpful? Sit over there and stay out of the way.”

In these circumstances, I’ve had to acknowledge that it’s time for me to take a piece of advice I’ve been handing out for years. That advice: Cultivate your prayer life.

Praying for God’s world and the people in it is something useful you can do in any circumstance. It’s a way to participate in the world even when you’re forced to be absent from the world. It’s a way to support loved ones even when you can’t make a casserole and drop it off. It’s a way to support strangers even if they’re on the other side of the world. And it has the side benefit of strengthening your own faith and lifting your loneliness, because you can always be in conversation with a God who cares, who knows you and loves you, who knows the number of hairs on your head and the number of sorrows in your heart.

While you’re praying, please pray for Esperanza Lutheran Church. Whatever’s most on your heart when you think about our church, lift that up to God and ask that God’s Spirit would flow through it to support and strengthen us in this oh-so challenging time.

And, if you’d like to join with other Esperanzans for a brief, weekly time of prayer, we’re meeting online for the next three Wednesdays (perhaps beyond that) to pray in support of Esperanza’s people and ministries. Call or email me for information at 224-422-9552 or  pastor.carol@myesperanza.org.

Many blessings and good health to you!

Pastor Carol

Stay In Your Lane

I had a strange experience earlier today. I was looking out the window at a row of wide-open yellow blooms on a cactus in our front yard, thinking about how they’d opened up in the sunshine, when the words “Stay in your lane!” popped into my head.

The tone of the words wasn’t scolding. It felt more like a reminder. I didn’t need to spend any time puzzling over what that “Stay in your lane!” was supposed to mean. With the words came the explanation. When the words came into my mind, while my eyes rested on those yellow blooms in the sunshine, I sensed the meaning: God’s doing so much more than you can even begin to imagine, and you are not the one who needs to figure everything out, plan everything out, or even wait everything out. That’s God’s lane, not mine.

“Stay in your lane!” meant “Live your life. Take responsibility for your life, your relationships, and your work. But remember: God has the God’s-eye view. God, who made these cacti and brought out their blooms, has his creating and redeeming eye on all this world. God’s “got the whole world in his hands,” as we used to sing.

The world weighs on us all these days. And it’s good and right that we should feel connected to all the world, care about all the world, and pray for all the world. But it’s also good and right that we then allow God to remain in charge and lift the weight from our shoulders. It’s good and right that we care about the near- and long-term future, pray about that in the midst of uncertainty, and then remind ourselves that, whatever the future holds, it’s God future, so, ultimately, it’s going to be OK.

We are called to do what we can and not what we can’t. We are invited to stay in our lanes and to recognize how distinctly limited is our perspective and how much greater is God’s. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).

May you find, in prayer, strength to do the things you can do and peace about the things you can’t … and about all the world-full of things over which you have no control.

And may you feel God’s steady presence with you in your lane.

In Christ,

Pastor Carol

 

Communion in Absentia

For a long time when I was young, I thought it was strange that in the Apostles’ Creed we say that we believe in the communion of saints. After all the stuff about God, here’s something that’s about us. And it felt funny to say I believed in a human thing, a collection of human beings.

As I got older, I began to have a better understanding of what that phrase “the communion of saints” is all about—what it refers to and what it entails. Then I could see how it’s something we believe in although we can’t actually see it. For starters, it’s too big to see, being the communion of followers of Jesus across time (past, present, future) and space (Africa, Asia, etc.). But also, it’s invisible. The communion of saints is the invisible work of God’s Holy Spirit, connecting human beings who may or may not be doing a good job of visibly living out that connection, or even when they’re prevented from being physically together.

In the U.S., the church hasn’t been forced apart by an oppressive government or driven to meet in secret and in small gatherings for safety. But now we are forced apart for safety in this coronavirus era. We don’t know when exactly we’ll meet together in-person again or what size groups will be advisable even then.

A good number in the Esperanza family are embodying the communion of saints by connecting regularly online. But many aren’t. Not everyone is equally equipped for online gatherings or equally comfortable with that mode of connection.

We are called in a new way to believe in the communion of saints, to remind ourselves that Esperanza Lutheran Church is an ongoing reality, called and gathered into one body by the Holy Spirit, even if we drive by the building and there isn’t a single car in the parking lot. Our relationships are real, our fellowship continues. We even have a brand new ministry that’s thriving: people working together/apart to provide meals and protective masks for medical residents (see the article below).

I want to encourage everyone to keep up—maybe even increase—your sense of connectedness with your fellow Esperanzans during this time.

If you can, join in for Holy Communion and Coffee Hour on Sundays at 10:00am (invitation below). Just stop in briefly if you want to see what it’s like.

Pick up the phone and make a call if someone pops into your mind. It could be a nudge from the Holy Spirit.

If you can use a little help, please please please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me or with Joni. We have a list of people who want to be of assistance. I’m at pastor.carol@myesperanza.org or 224-422-9552. Joni is at esperanza@myesperanza.org.

Finally, include Esperanza and its members in your prayers. Pray for the whole congregation, that God will keep us strong and guide our leaders. Pray for individual members, staff members, preschool staff … maybe go through the directory person-by-person and family-by-family and pray for the people you know and the people you don’t know yet.

I am praying for you. Please reach out if you want to talk. And I hope to see you Sunday for communion and coffee hour!

Peace and health to you!

Pastor Carol

He is Risen Indeed!

Join us to worship the risen lord!

At 10 a.m. gather on Zoom  for a brief worship service with Holy Communion to be followed by coffee hour. The Zoom invitation is in the Words of Hope email newsletter. For security reasons we cannot publish it here. If you do not receive the newsletter contact Liz Farquhar at liz.farquhar51@gmail.com and she will send you the information. To participate in Holy Communion, be sure to have some bread and either wine or grape juice at hand before we begin.

 

A Brief Meditation for Maundy Thursday

Sisters and brothers, we’re gathered this evening because it’s a very particular Thursday in a very particular week, Holy Week, when we remember and contemplate what Jesus did and what happened to him in his final days before his death.

For a lot of us right now, the days are just running together in an indistinguishable flow. It’s hard to stay oriented.

But for Jesus and his disciples, in the days we’re remembering, their senses must have been on high alert each moment. Their attention laser-focused. Each one of them knew that Jesus’ life was on the line from the moment he arrived in Jerusalem. Jesus was clear with his disciples that each day brought them closer to his death.

They knew that the Passover meal they’d share on this night would be their last together.

Those disciples were pulled away from the day-to-day and drawn into a room filled with tension, fear, anticipatory grief, and, no doubt, a profound awareness that they’d all been on an amazing journey in the few years they’d been together, a journey that was headed toward its unavoidable conclusion.

Listen to the account as written in Matthew’s gospel:

On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?”

He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matt. 26:17-29)

We’re about to join in that meal that Jesus’ followers have eaten together an uncountable number of times since that first time in a house somewhere in Jerusalem.

Of course, we’re doing it in a new way—spread apart and yet together, with our own pieces of bread and our own cups of wine, but shared in one communion with each other and with the church across time and space.

We share something else with those disciples: an awareness that the world is changing, that things won’t be the same again.

We don’t know what our world will look like 6 months from now, but we know it’ll look different from what it looked like 6 months before now.

The disciples at the table with Jesus knew their world was about to change. They didn’t know exactly how.

But we, looking from where we stand, we do know this: that Jesus did give up his body and did shed his blood, that he brought us into a new covenant relationship with God forever, sealed by his death for us.

Even in the midst of the haze of days of unchanging boredom for some of us, unchanging stress for some of us—especially those of us who work in healthcare—in the midst of all that, may we keep, in these Holy Days, a heightened focus on our Lord Jesus as we share this meal in his name; linger with him in the garden; see him arrested, tried, and convicted; stand at the foot of the cross; and then wait, in hushed reverence, to see the stone rolled away.

 

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