From the Pastor

Paschal Candle and Font 2017

So… we made a Paschal candle. It is beautiful, slightly imperfect and full of character. This two foot wonder tells the story of our gathered community. All of our old candles – altar candles from weekly worship, beeswax vigil candles from Christmas Eve, taper candles from festival Sundays – all of these were melted and molded to become our new paschal candle. And it is beautiful.

Fire has long been a sign of God’s presence. Moses found God in the burning bush. The Israelites followed a pillar of fire through the wilderness. Our Jewish ancestors lit lamps in the tabernacle and sacrificial fires on the altar of the temple. Fire was precious, and essential to life – for warmth, for food, for illumination.  Jesus captured the essence of light and fire to be a reminder of divine presence. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Throughout the season of Lent, we tread cautiously through the darkness. We acknowledge the dim corners of this world and hold out hope for the light of life. In Holy Week, we continue to walk with Jesus in his last days. On Good Friday, the darkness closes in and it seems that all hope is lost. And then, Christ lights our way out of the darkness – from death to life.

On Easter Sunday, we light our new Paschal candle, a reminder that Christ is indeed the light of the world, the light no darkness will overcome. This Easter we gather to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism. The light of the Paschal candle, the light of Christ, extends in blessing to the newly baptized, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). This invitation is granted to each of us in baptismal living – and the light of Christ grows.

Throughout the fifty days of Easter, the Paschal candle stays illuminated – a reminder of our enduring resurrection hope. And then, on Pentecost, the light extends to the people as tongues of fire rest upon them and they are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3-4). God’s church is set ablaze with the Spirit – and the light of Christ grows.

The light of Christ knows no bounds. This little light has the power to illuminate the world – casting out darkness and dispensing the shadows. This is the light of life – Jesus, our Savior. Thanks be to God.

Pastor Jen

From the Pastor

pray-fast-give-1

There’s a holy rhythm to the life of a Christian. Our community of faith engages a rhythm of feast and famine, preparation and celebration, contemplation and proclamation. These holy seasons set the metronome of our hearts to God’s rhythm – rather than the world’s.

As we enter the holy season of Lent, we take time to repent and return to God. Our ancestors in the faith journeyed through this season of lent with intentional spiritual practices – prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These practices define the life of a Christian, yet sometimes their importance fade in the midst of our day-to-day obligations. Lent carves out holy space to reengage these practices. Together, as a community of faith, we will engage in the three Lenten practices – prayer, fasting and sacrificial giving.

PRAY

Prayer affords time for reflection and connection with God. In prayer, we contemplate the goodness of God, we give thanks and we seek God’s mercy. Part of our weekly liturgy includes intercessory prayers – the Prayers of the People – a time in which we pray for the world, creation and all people in need. Throughout the season of lent we will engage in sung Prayers of the People, a unique way to join our voices as one to plead for God’s mercy.

FAST

Fasting from excess makes space to enjoy God’s abundance and to be in solidarity with those who go without. Throughout Lent, we will fast from the tasty treats that weekly grace the hospitality table. We will also fast from the convenience of conventional coffee as we switch to Fair Trade varieties. Fair Trade coffee ensures that growers and workers on coffee plantations receive a fair, livable wage in exchange for the products we consume.

GIVE

Generosity is a tangible marker of a faithful life. We live generously in response to the abundant gifts God has entrusted to us. This Lent we join together to support the work of Lutheran Campus Ministry. Our Noisy Offerings will help students at Texas A&M, Rice, University of Houston and Blinn experience the love of Christ and serve in their own communities.

I invite you into this season of Lent and into the mission we share. As we engage this holy rhythm, we trust that God is working through us.

peace.

Pastor Jen

 

From the Pastor

hunger-in-america-hands-go-orange

You give them something to eat. – Jesus

Well there you have it. When the crowds closed in, the disciples were motivated to send them on their way. They looked hungry and pretty needy. But Jesus had something else in mind. “You give them something to eat.” So they gathered their sparse resources and Jesus turned the little something into an abundant feast for all. (John 6:1-14).

I imagine Jesus would respond in the same way today. When a hungry kid shows up to school day after day without a thing to eat. When the man on the corner pleads for compassion and nourishment. When a family of four falls subject to unfortunate, unforeseen circumstances. You give them something to eat.

Throughout 2017, we give head to Jesus’ command as we focus on hunger – both locally and globally. We started back in January as we began to gather food and funds for Souper Bowl of Caring. A mound of cereal, peanut butter, jelly, chili, spaghetti and more accumulated at the foot of the cross. This food will fill the bellies of our hungry neighbors served through Cypress Assistance Ministries. You give them something to eat.

This summer, we will gather around tables for sacred worship. Remembering all the times that Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to others. Breaking Bread is a central part of the Christian faith, and so we follow Christ’s example of gathering around tables – with people we know well and people we seek to understand. And together we learn that those who hunger, hunger not only for daily bread, but also for meaningful connection. You give them something to eat.

This fall, we’ll turn our focus to world hunger. We celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with Beer & Hymns. For this 4th annual event, we join our Bishop, Mike Rinehart, in an effort to raise $500,000 for ELCA World Hunger. Let’s raise a pint in hopes of raising $5,000 to help alleviate hunger around the world.

You give them something to eat – today, and tomorrow, too.

Pastor Jen

From the Pastor

 

epiphany-home-blessing-2017-blue-door

Happy Epiphany! Today is the day – the 12th day after Christmas to be exact – the day we celebrate Epiphany. In our holy story, it’s the day we remember the Magi’s journey from the east. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that the Magi followed a star to find the newborn King. Christ’s incarnation marks a new beginning, a holy reign for all people.

This time also marks a new beginning for us. Not only a new year, but also a new season in the life of our church. In this season of Epiphany we celebrate the revelation of God incarnate – 2,000 years ago and still today.

As a community we will mark this season of revelation with Epiphany Home Blessings. This ritual is a meaningful way to honor the Christ who dwells with us. A traditional way of doing this is to use chalk to write above the home’s entrance, 20 + C + M + B + 17. The letters C, M, B have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the three magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They also abbreviate the Latin words Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless this house.” The “+” signs represent the cross and 2017 is the year.

So, I invite you to take part in this meaningful ritual in one of two ways. You may pick up a Home Blessing Kit this Sunday to chalk your own home. Or, I would love to come over for a blessing ritual and time of fellowship (Warning: Emma or Lily will likely be in tow). Contact me or RSVP on your connect card so we can set up a time. Either way, I hope you and your household will take a moment to celebrate Christ’s presence – wherever you dwell.

Peace.

From the Pastor

give-good-gifts

Tis the season for gift giving. As we prepare for Christmas, we have an opportunity to shower our people with good gifts. Our culture, and the marketing machine, may entice us to buy random gifts with a sense of obligation or extravagant gifts that quickly go out of style. There is an alternative. Giving good gifts that honor our faith and our people.

Our own gift giving follows the example of the Magi, the ones who traveled from afar to bring good gifts to the new born king.   In the Gospel of Matthew we hear, “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). Now I’m not suggesting that you give Grandma some nicely wrapped frankincense or little Johnny a lump of myrrh. But I am suggesting that we can learn from the gifts they brought.
Here are three ways we can follow the gift-giving strategy of the Magi:
 
Gifts that honor good.  The first gifts were an offering to God, in honor of Jesus. You might give an offering to a charity in honor of your loved one. Select a charity with ties to who they are – like Keagan’s Kitchen (an organization that prepares healthy meals for children) for the foodie in your life or the Houston Arboretum for the nature enthusiast in the family.
Gifts that are meaningful. The Magi’s gifts were not random, they were intentional – Gold that was costly, Frankincense used for worship and Myrrh that represented the suffering and death Jesus would encounter. Take some time to give meaningful gifts. Maybe a rose bush for your mom, to replace the one you demolished playing basketball as a kid. Or a nice bottle of wine to be shared over a meal you prepare for a sibling or friend.
Gifts that are a sacrifice. The magi brought costly gifts from the East, traveling rough terrain and directly disobeying King Herod.  You might sacrifice your time and resources to make a gift by hand. Or maybe you have a family heirloom that a sibling or cousin has always coveted. Giving of yourself is sacrificial and most often yields even more in return.
Think of it this way, the Magi brought gifts to Christ; the gifts we give honor Christ in our family and friends. So whatever you do, do it on purpose.
prepare room.
Pastor Jen
Check out ELCA Good Gifts for some excellent options: https://community.elca.org/elcagoodgifts
OR: SERRV International for beautifully crafted Fair Trade items: http://www.serrv.org/

 

From the Pastor

 

credo water

Well friends, you were certainly up for the challenge. Back in September, I welcomed / invited / challenged our community to write personal creeds, statements of faith that proclaim your understanding of God and your modus operandi. Throughout our Credo series we explored the wholehearted confession of faith we share in the Apostle’s Creed as well as the unique personal creeds that tug at the heart of each individual.

These personal creeds took on a variety of shapes. We received a little Hebrew lesson from Meredith and an insistent plea that God loves all from Carrie. We experienced a beautiful story of belonging from Griffen and a Top 10 List from Sister Shelli (of course).  Chuck encouraged us to respond to hate with love and respect and Rey challenged us to embrace a God that’s bigger than our imagination. The Cordes family taught us that God is good at Algebra, while the Drapers revealed a creative, humor-filled God of the platypus. Kathy pointed to the face of God unveiled in her children and grandchildren while Amber celebrated her 30th birthday with a God who redefines our expectations.

Thank your for exposing your heart, for sharing your faith. Through the diversity of our experiences and the depth of our understanding – we come to know God more fully. And this is good news. We learn more about God when we are in relationship with God’s people. This, I believe.

Pastor Jen

From the Pastor

seaford-posse

This month’s pastoral insight comes from my seminary friend, Brook Seaford. Brook is a dad to five wonderfully unique kiddos and a spouse to the phenomenally resilient Kristan. Brook is in the final stages of preparation for ordination in the ELCA; he currently serves as vicar of Cross and Crown Lutheran Church in Matthews, North Carolina. 

Today I awoke singing and was reminded that I am happy again.

Happy is such a broad term, I guess.  And it means different things to different people. But for me, it was that feeling that acts as an elixir to anything negative.  It’s that light that chases away the shadows.  It’s the warmth that crowds out the cold.

To be fair, these feelings would pop up now and again over the last few years; it’s not as if they were gone forever.  But they weren’t as commonplace as they once were.  Happiness wasn’t the default experience it once was.  I knew it had, in some way, slipped my grip.

But this reemergence prompted me to reflect about the shared experience of grief, sadness, and pain. Life throws curve balls and oftentimes, our situations seem to be the worst of all.  But somewhere, someone else is also suffering.

The good news (yes, there is good news) is that we aren’t there forever.  And despite our perception, we are never, ever alone.  Our God is a God of accompaniment.

One friend of mine was abandoned by her husband with young kids and had to scamble to figure out how to make sense of her unexpected new life. Through grit, determination, and tears, she got to work.  Her daughters are now beautiful, smart, and strong young women, and she spends her days helping underprivileged kids. Life is not easy; but it’s rebuilding.

Another friend of mine wrestled with addiction, enduring countless losses, only to reemerge running a successful non-profit.

And there are many similar stories.  Perhaps yours is one.  Or perhaps you are still in that desert.

At one point or another, we all experience hurt and loss.

At some point, we feel abandoned and alone; heartbroken by the life that was supposed to be or perhaps, never was.

Marriages fail.  Addictions destroy. Careers collapse.  Illnesses strike.

But God is with us the entire journey.

There were nights when my wife was sick and I anxiously and fearfully awaited the call from the nurses that she had not made it.   My house was filled with people who had spent the day preparing us meals and taking care of my kids, and yet I still felt alone. As others slept, all I could do was grip my tear-soaked pillow and scream into it at God, making sure my cries were muffled so no one would be alarmed that the optimistic seminarian was angry at God.

But morning came and she had survived another day.  I also, had survived another day.  And I realized at that point that I had never truly been alone.  God had been with me in Spirit through the night.  But also, God had been with me through the care of the nurses, the love and support of my family, friends, and community.  God had been there the whole time, walking with me and holding me up.

God was with me the entire journey.

The Bible offers many hopeful stories of the accompaniment of God. The Israelites wandered through the desert, but eventually found home.  And that is just one example.

I guess the message in all of this is that, regardless of where you find yourself today; whatever desert you are walking through; however dark your night is; God doesn’t leave you there.  You aren’t there forever.

God is with you.

The pain might always endure; we all have scars, some are visible, some are not.  But eventually you will emerge and one day you will start to notice that the sun is starting to eek out a little light again.

Food will start to taste good again.

Laughter will reemerge, bubbling up sometimes in the most unexpected of places.

One morning you’ll notice yourself belting out a favorite old song in the kitchen or in the shower or in your car and it will dawn on you that you’re back.  The happiness that eluded you has returned like an old friend.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s the postscript.

Written by Vicar Brook Seaford

From the Pastor

Credo graphic sept 2016

Warning, yet another nerdy confession follows. In college, I loved listening to an NPR radio show called, “This I Believe.” It was a revival of Edward Murrow’s program from the 1950s. Originally, Murrow launched the program to help people articulate individual beliefs rather than ascribing to religious dogma or patriotic platitudes. The show encouraged famous and everyday people to distill their beliefs into a simple essay, and then read the essay aloud over the air. The unveiled creeds diverged in countless ways, but all of them began with the same words, “This I believe.”

As Christians, we share a common set of beliefs confessed in the Apostle’s Creed. These shared beliefs form the foundation of our faith and our life together. Beyond this, we each hold individual beliefs about the world, the people and the experiences around us.  I believe it is essential to our faith and to the sharing of the gospel that each of us can clearly articulate what we believe.

In September, we will start a new series called Credo. As part of this series, I invite you to share your beliefs in a personal creed. More specifically, I am inviting you to write and read a personal statement beginning with the words, “This I believe.” It might take the shape of a top 10 list, a prayer, or a monologue. The point is not to be perfect or profound, though I imagine that will happen, the point is to articulate the beliefs that inform who you are and what you do.

We will share some of these creeds in written form via this electronic newsletter, eCelebrate. Some of the creeds may be read aloud in worship; others may be recorded to share in worship or on social media (of course with your permission).

So, what do you believe? Think about it. And get ready to share.

Pastor Jen

You can follow this link to explore the original and revived additions of This I Believe.

From the Pastor

Celebration’s Renovation Campaign has officially begun. And we are off to a great start! Thanks to the generosity and foresight of a couple key folks, we have $11,500 of our $60,000 goal in hand. Wow. Once again, I am in awe of the faithful giving in this community. With over 20% of our total campaign already raised, I am confident that we can reach this goal together.

Just over a year ago, Celebration moved into Bethesda’s Chapel as a ‘temporary tabernacle’. As we looked for a place of our own, we just so happened to find it a little closer to home than anticipated. God has certainly been at work in this venture. Now, we have the opportunity to deepen our mutual ministry with Bethesda, transform this space to reflect our community and grow together into the future.

Now, it’s time to get to work. In the month of July, look for work to begin on the audio-visual system, kitchenette, exterior signs, offices, band set-up and sanctuary. Renovations will continue as funds become available. Take a look at this Renovation Campaign Handout, for an outline of all renovations and the anticipated expense.

In order to transform this temporary tabernacle into our new Ministry Center, we need your help. I invite you to consider how you will contribute to Celebration’s Renovation Campaign. Perhaps you’re able to give a generous financial gift. Perchance you are a seasoned carpenter, able to share your craft. Maybe you are a savvy fundraiser willing to host an event or an experienced grant-writer poised to communicate on our behalf. With our powers combined*, we can make this happen.

In the weeks to come, you will have opportunities for conversation and consideration. Then on Sunday, July 24 we will gather campaign commitments. I welcome your questions and contributions.

Peace.

Pastor Jen

*Captain Planet has not officially approved of this sentiment, but I think he would.

 

From the Pastor

Well friends, it’s official! We are ‘going steady’ with Bethesda, moving forward into a new dimension of intentional ministry together. After careful consideration, a long-term lease agreement has been signed for Celebration to officially dwell Bethesda Chapel, now Celebration’s Ministry Center, for the next three years.

So what’s next? I’m so glad you asked. Next, we are on to renovating this space to make it our own. The renovation process includes:

  1. Discerning what needs to be remodeled, identifying reputable contractors and gathering bids for the work to be done.
  2. Proposing these renovations to our Bethesda friends. If the work is deemed to be permissible, Bethesda will grant permission to move forward. If the work is deemed to be mutually beneficial, a portion of the cost may be deducted from our monthly rental fee.
  3. Once we hear back from Bethesda, Celebration leaders will determine what work is financially feasible and get to work.

Take a look at the graphic to see the potential work to be completed. Take note – all of the renovations may or may not come to fruition. These, of course, are pending Bethesda approval.

So what can I do to help? Well, I’m so glad you asked. First you can pray. Pray for our partnership with Bethesda and for this next step in the life of Celebration. You may also prayerfully consider making a financial gift toward the renovation project. We have some monies already in hand; we will definitely need to gather more. Once bids come in, we will have a better picture of just how much money we need to raise. Stay tuned for more information on this front.

Thank you friends, for your willingness to imagine new ways of being the church. This intentional partnership yields not only a ministry center to call our own, but also an worth-while investment in the good work of Bethesda.

Abundant grace.
Pastor Jen

 

Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.
1 Peter 2:5

 

Bethesda reno graphic 6 2016