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October 2018

A World Without Saints

At the end of October after the leaves have fallen, the harvest of the crops has been gathered in, and the air is crisp with the hint of the coming winter, we pause to “remember the saints” in our worship. Recently I was standing at the burial place of one of my “saints” remembering an arresting line from a hymn by Fred Pratt Green, “a world without saints forgets how to praise.” That rings true to my experience. The “saints” in my life remind me of some of life’s most important lessons.

My generation is not the only one that matters to God. It is a hard pill to swallow for members of the baby boomer generation (born 1946-1964). We saw our generation as the movers and shakers of history. We overturned everything from classroom size and music to politics and religion. We are still causing a “boom” in the area of medical care and we are rewriting retirement. And yet, we are not the ones Tom Brokaw called to universal acclaim and for very good reasons, “the greatest generation” (born 1928-1945). How disconcerting! But also, ultimately, how therapeutic to locate ourselves as but one of the generations God has loved and will love. What a relief to play a significant but not exclusive part in God’s story worked out across many generations (Genesis 10; Matthew 1).

I was carried on the shoulders of others before I could stand and walk on my own two feet. Scratch hard enough beneath the surface of the “self-made” man or woman and you will find a sponsoring angel, an active godparent, a special mentor, someone who went before and opened doors. There are two kinds of persons in the world. Those who forget their saints and tend toward arrogance in demeanor and callousness in behavior. In biblical terms they are those who declare incessantly, “by my own hand I have gotten it!” And then there are those who remember their saints, maintain a lifelong and deep gratitude toward them, and contribute humbly to the good of their communities.

So much of what I have inside me as models of behavior, mental dispositions, antennae, passions, and contours of soul are not original with me but are hand-me-downs. A certain relative gave me a feel for the changing of seasons. I could hear and see him as I wrote the first line of this article. A certain theologian helped me to appreciate the subtle accumulations of providence that need more than one lifetime to occur. A certain bishop helped ignite in me a hunger to “have done with lesser things” (Harry Emerson Fosdick) and to participate in the larger works of God in society and history. I can hear and see both the theologian and the bishop objecting vehemently to my canonizing them as saints. The saints are often the last to recognize themselves as such. But where would we be without them?

This year All Saints Sunday falls on November 4th. If you have lost someone dear to you since last All Saints Sunday (November 5, 2017) and would like to have them named in prayer in the worship service, please phone or email their name and date of birth and death to Rayna at the church office by October 31st: 717-737-6921 or

Pastor Lew

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August 2018

Starting Over

Most times we go looking for a text from Scripture. Isn’t there something about a “threefold cord” somewhere? (There is: Ecclesiastes 4:12) But sometimes a text seems to seek us out. That happened to me recently. Two Old Testament books I had not visited for some time showed up on my doorstep. Ezra and Nehemiah tell about the Jews who were taken into exile under a Babylonian king. They are encouraged to return to their homeland under a Persian king who conquered the Babylonians. When I think of those persons coming back to the wreck and ruin of their homeland after an absence of decades, scenes like those of the victims of the Oklahoma hurricanes or the California wildfires come to mind: ashes, partial foundations, the occasional lucky find of a family keepsake.

What else could the people do but rebuild? Well I suppose there were options. They could sit down in the ruins, weep, and waste away. They could make a lazy compromise with the people who occupied nearby territory, giving up their core values to secure help. They could grumble and wish they had never returned to face the ominous task before them. But instead, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, the people buckled down and rebuilt, first the Temple and then the Wall around the city.

In their story, we can find the stuff of our story. The drama of our individual, family, and congregational stories is that we must constantly find a way to start over again and make the most of it. We find ourselves (by sickness, by change in work, by the collapse of an institution) faced with the challenge of dawdling in a memory or heading out for a new experience. It’s always late August and we should be getting back to school. But will we?

I invite you to join me the Sundays in September and October. We will be worshipping in a renovated sanctuary; the clutter and dust of the last few months will be gone. There in that consecrated holy space we will ask the God who orchestrated the reform and renewal under Ezra and Nehemiah to orchestrate reform and renewal among us too.

– Pastor Lew

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June 2018

This Summer at Calvary will be Hectic

As I write this, there are three men up on scaffolding working on the masonry around the towers of the church. I am waiting for an electrician to come by and check on the installation of new emergency exit lights for the ground level. Behind the scenes, crews are preparing to reupholster the pews and replace the carpet in the sanctuary.

It’s going to be a little chaotic at Calvary this summer. It is likely that we will have to hold worship in Fellowship Hall (ground floor) on July 15th. It is possible that it may be necessary another Sunday or so in June or July. We will keep you posted by emails and postcards.

Even with the chaos, life goes on. We will hold three special activities: the Jubilate Concert (June 13th); the Senators Ballgame (July 13th), and an Acolyte’s Field Trip to the National Cathedral (August TBA).  Our main ministry to the children of the community, the Arts Camp, The Story Tellin’ Man, will go on as scheduled (July 22-26; 6:00 – 7:45p). Manna will continue as usual this summer except that we are expecting some visitors from a local church that has had to close its dinner ministry for kitchen renovation.

Sunday school and Worship should carry on as usual except for the possible change of location for worship on a given Sunday or two. This summer I will add some new pieces to the sermon series, The Gospel in Baseball (July), and to the series, Listening for God on Broadway (August).

Try to imagine with me life on the other side of the dust and noise! This September we should have a beautified sanctuary, a renewed exterior, and several unspectacular but crucial safety features. We will hold a Sunday afternoon celebration to which we will bring the very important persons to Calvary’s history who are not normally able to attend. And the Council will hold a retreat as we begin to take steps to find new uses for the building God has entrusted to us for a season.

It is good (and fun!) to be your companion for this stage of the journey.

Pastor Lew

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April 2018

The Problem with sui generis

It’s easy enough to pronounce: “soo-i-generes”. It sounds something like a hog call followed by the word “generous”. It means unique, radically different, singular, or “constituting a class alone”. The problem with sui generis is you can point to things that are sort of like it, but never quite finish the job. It is easier to say what sui generis isn’t than to say what it is.

Sui generis messes with what you hold to be true about the way things really are. It threatens to undo your view of the world. It is untidy, like a sloppy teenager who cannot be coaxed, bribed or threatened to clean up their room. Sui generis confuses by its otherness. We keep wanting to reduce it to something else with which we are more familiar, more comfortable.

I’ve never been one to throw around Latin terms. First, every foreign language I speak still comes out with a Pennsylvania Dutch accent. And second, the day when you could assume a common education in Latin is over. But occasionally, I can’t help myself, and that is the case here. Sui generis is exactly the word I need to talk about the resurrection of Jesus. It is an event without parallel and therefore difficult to pin down.

Every Easter it is the same thing. I want to speak about the greatest event in history, the miracle of all miracles, the decisive act by God that changes everything. I want to show people its relevance and urgency. But it never comes out like it should. I fuss and fume, aim, fire, and miss, set traps only to find the creature has escaped. In the end, I shut-up and point. I can only hope they see resurrection hope for themselves.

I am back this Easter trying again. Maybe this year I can be a better witness to God’s unique, one-time, singular victory over sin and death by raising his Son. Where do I get the audacity to keep trying? From two places. First from the New Testament stories themselves. I notice how uncomfortable, how unprepared, how unhinged are those first witnesses of the risen Jesus. If you think I look bad, check out Mary Magdalene or the disciples on the Road to Emmaus when they first encounter the risen Lord!

And second, from that wonderful Latin word that reminds me: if this is the greatest event in the history of humankind, then I should expect some stammering. I am living in the echo of this event, trying to make sense of what I pick up. Sui generis, baby! Deal with it! Over the next month of Sundays or so I will preach the implications if Jesus is risen. It is hard work wrestling with a sui generis and your sympathetic company would be much appreciated.

Pastor Lew

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February 2018

As I write this we are in the middle of one of the worst flu seasons in a decade, with at least eight more weeks to go. Schools have been closed in eleven states. Some emergency rooms are so overrun that triage tents have been set up outside. To date there have been an estimated 30,000,000 victims, with 30,000 fatalities, thirty-seven of them being children. Gloomy comparisons to the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1917-1918 are surfacing in the press.

Also, as I write this we are approaching the church’s season of Lent, the eight weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Lent is a hard sell to people who have written off the church or never tried it in the first place. It begins in ashes on the forehead as you remember your mortality, continues through the tense tests of discipleship provoked as Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, and ends in Jesus’ intense prayer struggle with God in the Gethsemane garden, his sentencing before the authorities, and the death on a cross.

Some people want God to be exclusively about happiness, success, and well-being. A God who cares most that we have long and abundant lives, that we get ahead and feel good. A God of the strong and the winners. A God who bears a striking resemblance to their status symbols. Such a God has little to say to people suffering from flu, cancer, arthritis, MS, Alzheimer’s, or the myriad of ordinary aches and pains that tarnish our daily lives.

But God-for-real carries a cross in his heart. God’s story has a chapter called the passion of Jesus (a.k.a., Lent) and that chapter never goes away even though it is followed by a most happy reversal, Jesus’ resurrection. Lent comes around every year because every year we need to be reminded again of the character of our God. He hears the cries of his people in captivity (Ex 3:7). He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds (Ps 147:3). And in his son Jesus – we recall this most pointedly in Lent – he sympathizes with us in our weakness. God gets it!

Pastor Lew

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December 2017

As a boy growing up in Mill Hall our Christmas tree had a mystical quality about it. The lights and ornaments were shrouded in a layer of what was called “Angel’s Hair.” It made a beautiful impression but it was neither angelic nor hair-like. It was in fact glass spun thin, difficult to work with, mean to the touch. My father wore thick rubber gloves to put it on and we didn’t touch the tree afterward until we took it down. If you did touch it the angel hair seemed to attach itself like a magnet drawn to metal and irritated the skin like poison ivy.

I find myself remembering the mystic look of angel’s hair on a Christmas tree the same way I find myself listening to music I do not listen to at other times of the year. And watching movies from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. And recalling Bigger, Brighter, Better days. This is Christmas; this is what we do; we look back fondly. But in my better moments I remember why no one uses Angel’s Hair on Christmas trees anymore.

God is relentlessly present tense! It is the will of God that we live well in this moment fueled by real memories and reasonable hopes. Nostalgia is a distortion of real memories as anxiety is a distortion of reasonable hope. Join me and the worshipping congregation of Calvary this Advent and Christmas as we see how God challenges our tendencies to distort the past so that God can free us to live life better here and now.

Pastor Lew

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