Pastor’s Notes

May’s “From the Pastor”: Seeds of Resurrection

Dear friends in Christ,

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! The Easter season continues for a total of fifty days, because there just isn’t enough room in one day or one week to contain the joy and the impact of the resurrection. And so we get to greet each other throughout the season with the joyful greeting of Alleluia!

I don’t know about you, but after giving up the Alleluia for the season of Lent, it felt wonderful to say and sing it again on Easter morning. It’s a word that just feels good in your mouth; it rolls off your tongue and it has a song of its own even before you put it to music. If you missed the Big Reveal on Easter morning, the kids saw that the Alleluia banner—which we buried in actual dirt on Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent—had “sprouted” into an actual growing Alleluia spelled out in green seedlings!

The planter also included breadsticks, stars, and rainbow cross lollipops which were all related to the various items we had buried or “planted” over the weeks of Lent in the children’s sermons. It was quite a sight and you can still see some of it on the table in the narthex. Finally, on Easter morning the kids were all given “portable greenhouses” in which they could put a little soil, a few seeds, some water, and hang them in a sunny window to see the seeds sprout and grow.

As we (Worship and Music) were brainstorming and planning for this fun project, someone brought it to my attention that what we were doing could be interpreted as lying to the children. After all, do breadcrumbs really sprout and grow into breadsticks? Does glitter really grow into stars when watered and fertilized? Can paper cut in the shape of “Alleluia” actually turn into growing plants? Some kids would understand that this was an illustration of new life and resurrection, but others might not…which leads kids to ask, now or later when they learn the truth, why is the pastor lying to me? Why is the church telling me things that are not true?

Resurrection is more than just seeds growing and the earth coming alive in spring after a long winter. Resurrection is not about what happens naturally; when Jesus was buried, nobody expected that he would be alive again three days later. The reason we use the image of plants growing from seeds because the two are so very different from each other, and resurrection is about transformation. It is a more powerful image if you can momentarily set aside what we know to be true, and look at the image from a wondering perspective. If we didn’t know how plants came to be, and you saw a small, dry, wrinkled, dead-looking seed, you would never think it could sprout into a green, growing, living thing. And yet it does! Surprise! We so easily forget the wonder that is present in the world all around us.

Jesus’ resurrection means that the flavor of life itself has changed. Death, endings, change, things that used to be a source of despair and fear have been transformed into paths to new life, passageways to a new living space. Resurrection reverberates in our own lives every time something that seemed to be The End turned out to be A Beginning. And even though we might intellectually know this to be true, when we behold death, endings, change, we fear them as if we did not know what they can become. We forget so easily that the “seed” of death is transformed by Christ into the green growth of new life.

No wonder we need all fifty days of Easter (and probably more) to let this new reality sink in. It takes a leap of faith to trust that our end is not The End. But this is what God promises in the resurrection of Jesus. So don’t be afraid to call out “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” for the remaining days of Easter, or to answer, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

Together in Christ,
Pastor Katie

April’s “From the Pastor”: New Life in the Cross

Dear friends in Christ,

Many of you know that I graduated in 2005 from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) in Berkeley, California. As I type those words, in some ways it seems very long ago and in other ways it seems like only yesterday.

PLTS’ campus was on top of an extremely steep hill in the eastern part of Berkeley. There was one street that allowed you to drive directly up the hill, but doing so felt like your car was about to flip over backwards. The city had eliminated all the stop signs going up the hill, because too many motorists had stopped and then not been able to start moving again. Usually I would drive the long way, up the switchbacks, or take the bus and ride my bike down those switchbacks (talk about an exhilarating ride!).

Once you got to the top of the hill, it was like being at a retreat center or a camp. It was a between place—the western side of the hill was a residential area packed with homes who wanted that beautiful view over the San Francisco Bay. The eastern side of the hill was a stunning state park with steep ravines and hiking trails. The seminary was right in the middle of the world and the wilderness. The buildings were Spanish-style, lots of stucco and tile, and the chapel (named the Chapel of the Cross) was modeled after a chapel in France with modern architecture—a wedge-shaped worship space, a sweeping asymmetrical roofline, and a large steel-beam cross poking up from behind the building. It was the heart of the seminary.

A few years ago, PLTS made the heartbreaking decision to sell the property and move down the hill to the middle of downtown Berkeley. As an alumna, I knew this was a good move, both financially and strategically. In the center of town, PLTS is much closer to the Graduate Theological Union and UC Berkeley, public transit, housing options, grocery stories and restaurants, you name it. PLTS sold the property to Zaytuna College, the first liberal arts college in the Muslim tradition in the United States, which made many alums proud as well. But it was still heartbreaking to think of losing that beautiful spot on the hill.

Of course, once Zaytuna College took possession of the property, one question in particular loomed on the horizon. What would they do with the Chapel of the Cross? As you might expect, the day came when they dismantled the steel beams of the cross. It was not a surprise, and they were respectful in the way it was done, but of course it was yet another sad moment for the PLTS community.

Zaytuna was kind enough to give the pieces back to the seminary, and the wheels started turning in the minds of the seminary leaders. What emerged was a new cross, cut from the steel of the old—a cross with open metalwork, and within there is a new shape—the shape of a phoenix, with a smaller cross to be inscribed on the heart of the bird. The phoenix is an ancient symbol of rebirth, a mythical bird that is consumed in fire and born again in the ashes.

What better reminder could we have of our Easter faith, the belief that life comes out of death? The conviction that out of loss comes grace, out of darkness comes light, and out of sadness comes joy. This is the faith that sustains us through all of our days, the faith that supports us and leads us through the season of Lent, through the journey of Holy Week, and into the joy of Easter resurrection.

I am holding this cross in my memory and in my heart as we walk through these times together, both liturgically and in real life. What appears to be the end is not really the end, because God always has something new in mind, something that we can see only through the lens of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. A blessed Lent and Holy Week, and a joyful Easter to you all this month.

Together in Christ,
Pastor Katie

March’s “From the Pastor”: The Lost and Found Department

“But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” Luke 15:32

I once heard about a congregation that was in transition between pastors, and so they were in the rhythm of having a variety of different preachers share the Word with them each week. It came to be Lent—in fact, it came to be Lent in Year C, which is the year of the lectionary we find ourselves in right now. Rather than panicking about the fact they didn’t yet have a called pastor and Easter was fast approaching, they decided to make good use of their transition status.

Seeing that the assigned Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday in Lent is the Prodigal Son parable from Luke, they decided on a “Prodigal Son” theme for the whole season. Each of the five different pastors who preached during Lent preached on that story and brought their own perspectives, their own hang-ups, their own issues, their own areas of common ground to it.

Now, this would not work with most Scripture passages. Hearing the same story five Sundays in a row could get a little tedious! But the Prodigal Son parable is one of the few that I think could work. It’s one of the best-known and yet one of the deepest bits of Scripture there is. It’s both thoroughly familiar and incredibly interesting all at the same time. We are all in there somewhere, whether we are prodigal or prudent or somewhere in between.

Years ago, Frank Welker used to always tell me about the years when he was the secretary of the synod and would be asked to go around to different churches on Sunday mornings, to be present for official business and usually to preach as well. He used to always have a sermon prepared on the Prodigal Son that he would preach at almost every church he visited, because it was a passage that he knew would speak to everyone. It’s all in there, he said. You’re either lost or you’re found. And the prodigal son was lost, but then he was found.

All of us, in some way, have experienced being lost and being found. Being lost is a scary thing, but beyond simply being unlocated, being lost describes us every time we sin, every time we do something that puts us out of sync from God’s heart, every time we act out of fear or anxiety or revenge. And being found is not a matter of us getting our act together and putting our head on straight and finding the way. It’s a matter of the prodigal FATHER, our loving God, who finds us and forgives us and welcomes us home again.

I won’t be reading the same Gospel reading for five Sundays in a row, but I am going to be preaching this Lent based on the theme of “Lost and Found,” and keeping this story in mind. If you would like to prepare, take some time and read the fifteenth chapter of Luke in your own Bible. It has three parables about this theme. Think about times in your life when you have been lost, or found, or both…think of times when someone you loved has been lost, or found, or both. Come and hear about our Lord Jesus, who like the Prodigal Father, never
gives up on finding each one of us.

Together in Christ,
Pastor Katie

February’s “From the Pastor”: Sparking Joy and Our Relationship to Stuff

Some of you may be familiar with Marie Kondo and the KonMari method for tidying up your home. (Some of you may also be sick of hearing about it by now!) Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing and tidying consultant who has written books on her method of tidying and travels around lecturing and working with clients. She has a new TV program on Netflix that debuted January 1st, which is why you might be seeing or hearing about her more lately.

The whole center of her method is focused on finding what “sparks joy” for you. The method includes holding each thing you own and asking yourself whether it sparks joy. If yes, keep it; if not, it goes, and if it goes, you thank the item for what it has done for you. There is a greater structure to it as well, but that’s the central concept, and her method is designed to connect you to it.

Marie Kondo has plenty of fans as well as plenty of critics, and both camps came out in full force again when the show began. (When she said that she had only about thirty books in her home, book-lovers everywhere reacted viscerally!) Count me in as an initial skeptic—although I will admit, I am enjoying the show, perhaps because I can vicariously feel like a neat and tidy person by watching it.

But I started thinking about it differently when I read an article about her spiritual background. The KonMari method is based on principles of Shintoism, a religion and philosophy native to Japan that believes that every inanimate object actually has a spirit, a kami. This is the basis of Marie Kondo’s reverence for and respect for all objects, even including the house or apartment itself. Kondo served as an assistant at a Shinto shrine for five years before becoming the household name she is today.

I’ve seen some Christians use this as a reason to reject the KonMari method. After all, we don’t really believe that mysterious spirits live in our books and need to be woken up by patting them (Kondo does this often). We know that our salvation is not dependent on having your clothing neatly folded and standing on end. While there are certainly ways to substitute Christian principles for the Shinto ones, we shouldn’t pretend they are one and the same.

At the same time, this religious critique of her methods bothered me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on how or why at first, but I knew it did. Because after all, Christian do have a theology of stuff! It’s called incarnation. We believe that Jesus is God in human flesh, and we believe that Jesus promised to be with us through stuff, through bread and wine and water. That means that we believe objects do matter, even if we don’t believe they have literal spirits inhabiting them.

Things are not gods. But they and their accumulation and their positioning do have some kind of power with us, because we are physical beings as well as intellectual and spiritual. Having mountains of possessions is not only a physical problem, it is a spiritual one as well, because it prevents us from stewarding any of them wisely or appreciating the gifts we have been given. In fact, our theology of stewardship should flow from our theology of incarnation. God asks us to care for the world, not only because he made it, but because he is present in it.

And it’s both appropriate and honest to say that things can spark joy for us. Being grateful for our possessions should never be just about the possessions themselves; it should always be about what life they allow us to live. Is it a joyful life? A purposeful life? An appreciation for God-given beauty or fine craftsmanship? A life that enables you to serve others? That sense of deeper meaning and greater gratitude is something we can learn from Marie Kondo, even if the driving force is something different.

I don’t know that I’ll be KonMari-ing my spaces anytime soon, but I do think Christians can learn something important from the process that helps us reflect on our own unique tradition and its theology of “stuff.” I’d love to hear what you think about this, whether you’ve tried the KonMari method or decided it’s definitely not for you. Or if, like me, you enjoy the Netflix show but do most of your tidying in your mind!

Together in Christ,

Pastor Katie Yahns

January’s “From the Pastor”: God Says Hello

Dear friends in Christ,

While visiting my family after Christmas, I had the joy of worshiping with my parents in their church for the first time since they moved to a new community five years ago.  I didn’t realize just how much I’d missed going to church with them until we sat down in the pew!  I also didn’t realize just how much I’d missed going to church and just being there as a worshiper for a change.

In the pastor’s sermon for the day, she talked about the incarnation—God being born in human flesh—as God’s way of saying “hello” to the world.  I loved this way of thinking about Jesus’ birth.  God says “hello” as a way of starting something new, a new conversation with the people of the earth, a new twist in the story of this relationship.  God says “hello” and follows it up with “how are you?  I really want to know.”

Christmas is an invitation to welcome Christ to be born into our world, our lives, our daily existence.  Not just as a guest that you welcome for a short period of time and then get on with life.  It means allowing your world to be re-shaped.  It means being willing to change for the sake of this newcomer, this interloper.

The season after Epiphany is a period of time when we think about the direction our lives take now that God has been born in human flesh.  In worship we’ll hear stories about Jesus coming into his own, making his mark on the world, figuring out his path.  It’s actually a perfect season for the New Year, when we are also evaluating our path and asking ourselves how God might be calling us to grow and change in the year ahead.  And it’s a perfect time for our annual congregational meeting, when we ask those same questions as St. Peter’s and explore where God might be leading us into the future.

Because even though Christmas is technically past, Christ is still very much incarnate in our world.  Even after Jesus has been born, we still need to gather to hear words of love, joy, hope, and peace and then carry them out into the world.

In that church service with my parents, the pastor used a special blessing for the New Year.  I share it with you here:

May God make your year a happy one!

Not by shielding you from all sorrow and pain,

but by strengthening you to bear it as it comes;

not by making your path easy,

but by making you sturdy to travel any path;

not by taking hardships from you,

but by taking fear from your heart;

not by granting you unbroken sunshine,

but by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows;

not by making your life always pleasant,

but by showing you when people and their causes need you most,

and by making you anxious to be there to help.

God’s love, peace, hope and joy to you for the year ahead.

Together in Christ,

Pastor Katie Yahns

Christmas Welcome

St. Peter’s Christmas tree 2017. Photo by Cheri Schmalz

The most common thing I hear people say about why they love St. Peter’s is that it feels like family.  We would love to be your “second family,” so to speak, for the Christmas season (and beyond, of course!).

Join us for the following:

  • The children’s Christmas pageant on Sunday, December 23 at 10:00 am.  The pageant will be embedded in worship as the kids bring us the good news!  Come early for breakfast at 9:00 am.
  • A candlelight service geared for kids on Christmas Eve at 4:00 pm.  Hymns and readings are shortened, glow candles will be available, and I’ll read a children’s book as the main part of the sermon.
  • Another candlelight service, slightly more formal, on Christmas Eve at 9:00 pm.
  • Lessons and Carols for Christmas on Sunday, December 30 at 10:00 am.  The lessons will tell the story of Jesus’ birth and early years while the carols will be chosen that morning by popular request!
  • The Epiphany of Our Lord is the final day of the Christmas season when we celebrate the visit of the magi to Jesus and his parents.  Worship on this day, Sunday, January 6, will be at our usual times of 9:00 am & 11:15 am.

Getting ready for Christmas

Welcome to the new St. Peter’s website!  We’ve been working on making this space welcome for a while now, and finally coming to a point where we can throw the doors open and welcome newcomers and old friends alike.

It’s not that different from Christmas and the holiday season–it takes a while to make the right preparations, and you hope you’ve thought of everything, but finally, the most important thing is actually welcoming folks inside.  You’ve probably been getting ready yourself, and now it’s almost time for loved ones to enjoy the fruit of your labors.

But of course, those preparations remind us of how important it is to prepare our hearts and minds to be touched once again by the birth of Jesus.  The coming of Christ in our midst, hallowing our earthly existence and making this world a dwelling place for God.

Ultimately Christ will be born in us, even if the preparations are not complete.  As I shared in last Sunday’s sermon, Christ comes in the space between us–that holy space between two people who receive each other with love, grace, and forgiveness.

Let us focus on creating THAT kind of a space this Christmas time.  Well, I guess we don’t create it…but we can do our best to get out of the way when we see the Holy Spirit creating it in our midst.  Thanks be to God.