Welcome Vicar Matt Hoffman

2013-09-28 14.44.29 (2)Hello Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church,

It is with great humility and excitement that I write this letter to the congregation, staff, and church council. While I have had the chance to meet many of you, I look forward to developing these relationships over next two years. Truly, I am excited to begin my new role as Vicar this fall among you all Shepherd of the Hills.

It has been a long journey that brought me to Sylva. From my roots near Dayton, Ohio, to teaching high school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to attending seminary in New York City, my call to ministry has led me to new places and adventures that I could have never imagined. Since finishing my Masters of Sacred Theology in Lutheran studies this past May, I have been searching for a place to begin the next step of my process towards ordination—the internship. It is with great joy that I formally begin my Lutheran internship this fall with both Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church and St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Asheville.

Since moving to Western North Carolina, I have been teaching at Warren Wilson College, near Swannanoa. As part of the religious studies faculty, I have been able to teach courses on world religions, interfaith engagement, environmental justice, and Islam. Moreover, I have been able to incorporate service-learning and my passion for interfaith dialogue (especially Muslim-Christian dialogue) into my courses at the college. My time teaching has been incredibly rewarding and I have grown to truly love my time in the classroom.

Outside of these endeavors, I have grown to love Asheville and Western North Carolina. I have developed a taste for vinegar-based barbeque and a newfound love for hiking in the mountains, as well as a deep appreciation for the people who make this place so special. In my spare time, I love watching/playing sports, cooking (especially Cajun food!), traveling locally and abroad, having deep philosophical conversations, and engaging in interfaith work. Additionally, I hope that you all will get the opportunity to meet and know my partner, Samantha Gonzalez-Block, who is an associate pastor at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville.

I am looking forward to beginning this adventure and getting to know each of you. I trust in God’s presence and guidance as we enter into this new endeavor together.

Grace and peace,

Vicar Matt Hoffman

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It Is Prep Time!

Shepherdess Writes

Advent 2A December 4 2016

A few years ago, I had the privilege of spending the time after Thanksgiving and just before the beginning of Advent with some friends of mine on their family’s farm in Dushor, PA. This was not just any farm, either. It was a Christmas tree farm! That was quite a magical and memorable way to begin this season that can be so overwhelming and draining.

It seems that as soon as December hits, we are preparing for parties that we might end up too tired to enjoy, stressing over finding the right gifts, and fretting over family discord that might or might not ever show its ugly head. We can sometimes exhaust ourselves with travel, too. And this is not to mention the regular commitments we all have in our live.  By the time we get to Christmas, we might be ready to sing Joy…

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Losing

Please join us for Ash Wednesday Worship with Holy Communion and the Imposition of Ashes at 6:30pm. Come early for soup supper at 5:30.

Here we begin our Lenten journey, the 40 days of preparation for Easter. It is the beginning of our journey to the cross. Seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the coming of the wise men to see the new born king. Lent comes early this year and we are barely beyond the start of the new calendar before it is upon us.

ash

Ash Wednesday

Lent really is an odd season. I’ve heard some people compare it to off season training for an athletic sport. Like baseball players who go away to spring training to work on the fundamentals of the game, we take time during our Lenten spring training to work on the fundamentals of our faith; the skills of what it means to be a Christian. Many take Lent to be a somber, serious time intended for self-reflection, repentance and returning to God humbly to ask for forgiveness. Some fast during Lent and some add a practice like additional daily prayer or bible study. Some might perceive Lent as that time when we determine which addictions we may still have some sort of control over. And some Christian denominations find it too problematic and skip Lent altogether, opting to begin the celebration of the resurrection as early as possible, well before Easter Sunday actually arrives.

A friend of mine seriously questions the practice of giving up something for Lent and said, “I don’t get what fasting is going to do for you. God gave us good things! God does not want us to suffer and we can’t earn God’s love by doing anything like that, so what’s the point? Makes no sense to me!” Well, he has a point. No amount of sacrifice could ever earn us God’s love that is already freely given to us. So, what IS the point of Lent?

In many ways, Lent is about losing. I know that is not a popular idea; losing. We avoid it desperately. But Lent won’t let us forget it. The big symbol of the beginning of Lent is a cross made of ashes, an unmistakable image of loss. But it isn’t that we are supposed to make a sacrifice or perform an act to appease God during Lent. We cannot out-sacrifice God. Lent teaches us that regardless of what we lose, give up, or give away, God has given us all that we need. No matter how much of a loser we are, in God all our needs are fulfilled.

It seems like we panic when we think we can’t have something. It can sometimes even make us think that God wants to punish us when something is taken away. Our culture is very good at teaching us how to win, acquire, obtain, maintain, and horde, but not so good at teaching us how to lose graciously, how to give up, release, surrender, or grieve.

There has been much made over Cam Newton this week, the Carolina Panther’s quarterback, and his behavior at an interview just following the SuperBowl. So many people judging him as a poor sport for abruptly leaving a post game interview, calling him a pouting adolescent. Others pointing out the loud conversation going on behind him, which included the boasting words of a Broncos player, mitigated his behavior. Regardless of the hows and whys, Cam Newton had lost. A really big, really public loss, perhaps the most public of losses possible these days, and did not know what to do or how to escape this loss.

He has no doubt spent his career focusing on winning. Professional athletes do not get paid to lose, they get paid to win. That is really all there is. But he and his fellow celebrity athletes are not alone. We in this constant consumption, moderation-is-for-idiots, “winning”, desperately searching for a perfect hero to worship, shame driven American culture are just like this. Even if we have a stoic and less emotional response, most of us do not know how to stand in the presence of loss and still know it is well with our souls. Even though it is.

For most of us at best, the practice of being a good loser is nostalgic, a remnant of a bygone era and while we expect our heroes to know how to lose gracefully, the truth of it is that none of us know how to do it.* We don’t know how to do it because it is a practice and when we are faced with losing, the suffocating shame of losing, we too will do nearly everything to avoid it.

We blame others. We get angry; angry with them, angry with those people who did this to us, angry with God. We resist it. We fill the holes in our soul with anything we can to staunch the emotional bleeding, usually with things that make us feel like winners anyway, illusions that make us feel like we were wronged or new ways to win at any cost.

Super Bowl 50 - Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

………. the remainder of this sermon can be found here

OR join us for worship at 6:30pm Wednesday, February 10th.