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Summer 2017

Listening for God on Broadway This Summer

If you step back and analyze it, a musical is an odd way to present stories about the human condition. People don’t really talk by singing to and at each other like they do in Hamilton or Oklahoma. But here’s the thing about a musical: you don’t step back and analyze it; you step in and immerse yourself in the music, dance, and sets. You do it best when you see the professionals in the great theatres like St. James in NYC or the Kennedy Center in DC. But you do it good enough when a local high school or community theatre performs their amateur versions.

As a young person, I was relatively content to compartmentalize: I could be deeply moved, even enthralled with the Sound of Music or West Side Story and never ask what they had to do with God. As I grew in my faith I grew in a desire to see some connections. If God is God, the inspirations for the story, songs, and production have their final source in him. If God is God, a completely secular picture of the human condition is incomplete, is closed off from some of the most important data of the situation. And in the other direction, if God is God, the gospel message about God seeking to recover those who belong to him needs to be told in a way that not only reaches the mind but also the heart.

Recently I asked the worshiping congregation to note their favorite Broadway musicals. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of answers. I started from that list, added a couple of my own favorites that weren’t on there and came up with the list below. Throughout the summer, we will hold in conversation these musicals and the scriptures as noted. The basic elements of our worship will be scaled back to the essential minimum to give us more time for the songs of these musicals to be presented by our musicians and guests.

As you look at the list, you may have special memories associated with one or more of the 12 musicals we will look at. If so, I would like to hear from you. Please hand me a note on Sunday morning or send an email to lewparks20@gmail.com. I look forward to this journey together as we listen for God on Broadway.

Pastor Lew

 

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March 2017

Deadly Sins—Saving Virtues

Sometimes we find ourselves in experiences without the language to name them – overwhelmed and muted at the same time. Then someone comes along with a toolkit of names for what is happening; we borrow the words and we gain a foothold for the climb out of the overwhelming experience.

I think the church’s lists of Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Saving Virtues is one of those toolkits. This toolkit of names, often brought out in the season of Lent, was created by Christians through the centuries as they wrestled with the temptations of daily life and heard or read the scriptures. The sins are “deadly” not because they cannot be forgiven or overcome – they certainly can and that is the whole point of listing them. They are “deadly” because they want to take over a person’s soul. They are insidious. If left unchecked they can cut a person off from love and community, and ultimately from the life-giving Spirit, the seal of their own sacred worth.

Less well-known then the list of seven deadly sins is a list of seven parallel saving virtues. Virtues are pathways given by God out of the deadly sins and into a life of confidence, consistency, and fruitfulness. God gives the pathways of virtues but we must choose to follow them, to practice and practice until the virtues become automatic reflexes. The Apostle Paul calls this work of progressing from life-destroying sins to life-affirming virtues “growing up in Christ.” John Wesley calls it “sanctifying grace.”

Please join me in the worship service this season of Lent as we look at the seven deadly sins and their counterparts in the seven saving virtues. March 12: the deadly sin of PRIDE and the saving virtue of HUMILITY… March 19: the deadly sin of GREED and the saving virtue of TRUST… March 26: the deadly sin of LUST and the saving virtue of LOVE… April 2: the deadly sin of CONSUMING ANGER and the saving virtue of SELF-CONTROL… April 9: the deadly sin of GLUTTONY and the saving virtue of TEMPERANCE… April 23: the deadly sin of ENVY and the saving virtue of REST IN PROVIDENCE… April 30: the deadly sin of SLOTH and the saving virtue of HOPE.

Your traveling companion through the season of Lent,

Pastor Lew

 

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January 2017

The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph

Before we called God by the Trinitarian name “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”; before we called God “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ;” and before we called God by the name given to Moses on the mountain, I AM WHO I AM or Yahweh, we called God by the name of the persons he hung around with long ago and far away. We called God by the name of one or more of the four great patriarchs of the faith whose life stories are found in the first book of the Bible, Genesis.

At least three good things happen when we reconnect with the family saga of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph… (1) We discover how much religious faith we share with Jews and Muslims. It helps us elevate those things that hold us together and to separate and renounce distorted versions of all three major faiths. Nothing could be more important for the peace of our nations and the future of our children than to engage in this interreligious conversation… (2) We recall how God works through, around, and sometimes despite families. We are given families at their sacrificial best and at their petty worst. Just about every dysfunction you can name in your family, Freud, the Jewish psychoanalyst had already spotted and diagnosed in that Genesis crowd. There is a whole school of contemporary psychology, Family Systems, that camps frequently in Genesis 12-50. And yet, and yet, there is always God at work bringing grace to and from even the worst family fiascos… (3) We take solace in the long work of God. Genesis gives us a God whose plans are too grand to be accomplished in a few months, or years, or even in a lifetime. God’s plans require persons willing to play a part in a play then surrender that part to another before the play ends. We experience sacrifice for a larger cause in this saga. We see the need to adjust our clocks to the timing of the Almighty and to trust that God finishes what God starts.

In the next weeks (Jan 22 – Feb 19), I invite you to join me as we reconnect with our ancestors in the faith. I ask you to do these three things in preparation. (1) Read and reread Genesis 12-50, in multiple translations if you can. (2) Listen for distorted versions of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam in the news. How is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph misrepresented? Tell me about it. (3) Trace your ancestry back four or more generations and share any surprises with me by note on Sunday morning or an email. I look forward to our journey together.

-Pastor Lew

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December 2016

Our Cross is Out

Al, who lives eight blocks up Market Street, was one of the first to notice. He is homebound most days but has a good view from his second story window. He takes daily visual solace in that ten-foot red cross that adorns the bell tower of Calvary Church as it has since February 1958. The cross marks the place where Al worshipped God until his health crisis, the place he intends to return to someday. A neighbor was the second person to notice. “Did they make you turn it off?” They didn’t, though that is an interesting commentary on the place of the church in contemporary society, that a person could imagine the powers-that-be ordering us to turn off our light, like police ordering a blackout during wartime.

No, what happened wasn’t anywhere near that dramatic. A bird or something ran into one of the sections of neon lights attached to the aluminum cross and shattered the neon tube and a connector or two. Other parts are simply showing signs of wear. It would take several hundred dollars to repair the neon lit cross properly. The Trustees have decided it is time to replace the neon tubing with energy efficient LED lights on the cross. They are much less vulnerable to the elements and much easier to replace. The order has been placed. We have about 25% of what we need so far. We are receiving donations from members and a surprising number of persons who want to see the cross lit even though they have no relation to the church, or perhaps any church. It is a symbol that speaks across lines.

The cross was dedicated in 1958 to Mr. Charles LeRew who was the much loved teacher of the Fellowship Class. The original cross was built of wood. It was replaced in 1981 with an aluminum one designed and constructed by Clair Amsbaugh. Several of our members have maintained the cross through the years. It is not an easy workspace to get to nor work in.

According to the research by Sandy Mentry, Calvary Historian, the dedication service of the first cross, with Rev. Arthur Stambach presiding, ended with the congregation singing, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” It is my hope that we will have the third edition of the red cross lit for our Christmas Eve service and be able to rededicate it as part of that service. One of our five prayers for Calvary goes like this: May we be a blessing to the Lower West Shore! The red cross is the powerful symbol of that prayer. It can be seen from certain vantage points crossing one of the bridges over the Susquehanna River. It can be seen coming east on Market Street from Camp Hill. Some have spotted it when their planes were landing at HIA. It speaks of the self-sacrificing God whose love enfolds us. It speaks of rescue and hospitality to those who stumble in the darkness. It offers direction to the lost. It summons disciples of Jesus Christ to take their stand beneath it.

Pastor Lew

 

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November 2016

Whatever Happened to Church Membership?

  Well to start with a whole generation came along, mine, the baby boomers (1946-1964) who are notorious non-joiners. So don’t feel bad, church, in our cussed independence we were hard on the Rotary, the PTO, the fraternities, and even the bowling leagues. We prefer bowling alone as one observer put it.

Then churches changed the way they measured their strength. Where once they talked about their membership now they talk about their average worship attendance and budget. Some of this had to do with finding a fairer way to parse out contributions to the connectional churches. It is not surprising these days to hear that a congregation’s average worship attendance is significantly larger than its membership.

A wind of reform blew in some parts of the contemporary church where participation in various activities (small groups, spiritual gifts discernment, mission activities beyond the wall of the local church, in depth study of the study of the Bible) were viewed as the new minimum requirement for membership. This seemed to be a return to the ancient church which practiced generous hospitality to all, but knew that not everyone who visited in worship was ready for the greater rigors of discipleship.

And let’s not forget the church’s loss of esteem in the eyes of society in recent years. Where once church membership was the respectable and expected thing to do, now it is considered, at least by the outsiders, as one more quaint but outdated practice of the resident aliens who call themselves disciples of Jesus.

So, let’s agree, church membership has fallen onto hard times. Can it be rescued?  Should it be rescued? I guess only time will tell with the first question. But I will take on the second one and answer it, YES. Let me count the three reasons why church membership still matters.

  1. There ought to be a way for those who were guests at their own baptism (infants, children) to claim the promises that were made for them, to say for themselves “I renounce evil,” “I will resist injustice and oppression,” and “I confess Jesus as Savior and Lord.” Paul calls this sort of step of intentionality, “growing up.”
  2. There ought to be a way that those who take the community of faith seriously to differentiate themselves from those who are only there to check it out. If persons are willing to commit their prayers, their time, their money, their talents, and their witness to build up the congregation, they should be able to recognize the others who are playing the game at that level. Most times it won’t matter, but sometimes you need to know “who here is serious?”
  3. There ought to be a way to self-identify as one of the resident aliens. Say you attend such and such a church and no one objects. There are tourists everywhere: casinos, sports arenas, microbreweries, mega churches. But say you are a member of such and such a church and you invite scrutiny. “What’s your problem? Why do you do that when almost nobody else does these days?” You might find yourself pushed to blurt out a witness. “Yes,” you might say, “I believe in Jesus and Jesus’ Church. And I’m in so deep I belong to this particular community of faith. Deal with it!”

Pastor Lew

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September/October 2016

Beliefs Below the Frost Line

This experience used to be exceptional, but with the aging of our population in general, and the noticeable aging of the church in particular, it is now pretty commonplace. You are talking to a relative, friend, or someone of the church family who suffers from Alzheimer’s or a form of dementia. There are dangling conversations laying in a pile around you like discarded pages of tablet with starts of notes that could not be finished. There are flashes of recognition, but only flashes. Then the leader in the worship service where the two of you sit, or a voice on a TV tuned to the TBN network, or maybe you yourself spontaneously, offer up the words of a familiar hymn, “Amazing Grace” for example, or “I Come to the Garden Alone”. And that person who a moment ago seemed so entirely disconnected and adrift begins to sing along, singing the verses perfectly from a memory lodged somewhere deep but sure. The first time I heard a musician speak about “hymns below the frost line” I knew exactly what she meant.

I have begun to wonder if there might be beliefs below the frost line too: beliefs stored in some deep, protected place that could be summoned to consciousness even when most other memories refuse to come forth. I know music adds power to words that makes them stick, but are there spoken beliefs, perhaps reinforced by being said out loud in unison with others over and over again, that could lodge themselves deep into our spirits so that they are available to us in the times of testing, whether persecution or illness, stress of body or stress of mind?

I believe there are such words and that a prime example would be that collection of beliefs known as the Apostles Creed. In one form or another the creed has been passed from one Christian generation to another for more than 1800 years. It was and still is passed along with a reputation as a list of essentials. It is worth noticing what it leaves out. That may be the hardest part for some of us. But it is especially worth noticing for those beliefs to which it gives preference and prominence. It is as if we are being told, when all other beliefs fall from favor, popularity, or even the capacity for recall, cling to these beliefs!

For the next several weeks I will be preaching a series of sermons on the Apostles Creed. I look forward to your participation. Share with me your questions, stories, artifacts related to the elements of the creed just as you did for the baseball series. Join in the adult class of Sunday School at 9:00 a.m. as we go into depth on the beliefs of the creed. Lend your voice to the choir or hands to the bell choir as they reinforce the power of the Apostles Creed through music. Together we will store the essentials of our faith in a place of safe keeping and enduring access.

I believe (Sept 18)… in God the Father Almighty (Sept 25)… Creator of heaven and earth (Oct 2)… in Jesus Christ, his only son, our lord (Oct 9)… born of the Virgin Mary (Oct 16)… was crucified, died, and was buried (Oct 23)… he descended into hell (Oct 30)… on the third day he arose again (Nov 6)… is seated at the right hand of the Father (Nov 13)… he will come again to judge (Nov 20)… in the Holy Spirit (Nov 27)… the holy catholic church (Dec 4)… the communion of saints (Dec 11)… the forgiveness of sins (Dec 24)… resurrection and the life everlasting (Dec 25).

Pastor Lew

 

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