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This Week At Shepherd of the Hills!

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January 8 TWASHLC


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

Loving Prayer – God in the World


Our focus in this class is to talk about ways we can live in a world that hurts, is not often kind, and be a representative of our vision of a loving God. The way we are approaching this topic is through study and conversation about the history and practices of the Spiritual Disciplines. Before going on to study the early church mothers and fathers, it became clear that our group wanted to spend more time on prayer first.

Our conversation for this week is about the power of love in our intentional prayers. Each week we start our conversation with a prayer chosen from the church’s history, the LBW, or the Psalms that address our particular topic of the day. The topic in prayer this week is love. How do we choose to love our enemy and do good to those that hate us when it’s hard sometimes to love and do good to those that annoy us?

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As we think about our world today, everything seems overwhelming. Martin Luther said that the busier he was, the more he prayed. In our busy lives, our prayer time is often the first to suffer. Yet, when we take time to pray we are given more than time because our understanding of our own needs as well as the needs of others becomes clearer. Often we can also begin to better discern the things/events which we need to let go of and allow God to be the one in control.

For this week, our prayer exercise will be to use the worksheet  The Power of Intention in our Prayers to pray about love. How is it that we recognize the love of God, the love of others, and the love of self in the coming week? Write your answers down in the columns. Which column has fewer entries? What does it mean to recognize the love around you?

If you cannot join our wonderful group on Sundays, we would be blessed to hear from you. You can comment below or send your information to our church. Please pray for us. We are praying for you.

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Ash Wednesday Service

This serashmon was originally crafted to be preached after the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday 2/18/15. However, with the dangerous weather we are having, this was not possible. I will deeply miss this remarkable moment I get to experience each year–standing in front of a congregation marked with the cross of Christ. And yet, it is important to remember that these dark crosses are merely the outline of the cross we bear always. Even without the Imposition of Ashes, God still impositions us at Lent. Thanks be to God!

It is always a remarkable moment to stand in front of the congregation on Ash Wednesday and see all of you looking back at me with the dark, cross-shaped smudges on your foreheads. It is like holding up the bread and wine at communion and seeing, in a sense, the people of God through communion; to see the body of Christ amongst the Body of Christ. Tonight we see the cross of Christ upon the Body of Christ.

The word for that part of the service when we receive the cross is called the Imposition of Ashes. Imposition is the word that describes the act of applying them to the forehead and it is a very curious word. We do not say “Blessing with Ashes” although the cross is of course a blessing and knowledge of our mortality and reliance upon God is, too. We do not say the “bestowal” or “gift” of ashes, though it surely is the bestowal of a gift. No, instead we say imposition.

Imposition means to inconvenience, to put someone out in some way. Such as, the road construction in front of the church is such an imposition! Or, could I ask you to read the lesson for worship tonight if it isn’t an imposition for you?
Ash Wednesday IS an imposition. Actually, all of Lent is an imposition. It is not something we asked for and it probably isn’t something we really want. We are supposed to come to worship twice a week, Sunday AND Wednesday nights, too! We are encouraged to give something up, usually something we really like, and to give it up from tonight through Easter Sunday. Certain joyful words and hymns are to be put away until the end of Lent and, let’s face it, all that confessing stuff is a real downer!

God presumes to imposition us!

When I was serving my internship year at Mt Olive Lutheran in Hickory, my friends from Charlotte, Nancy and her husband Don, came to visit and see the church. I was giving them the tour and when we opened the doors to the worship space, Nancy nearly ran smack into the baptismal font. It stood just inside the door in the middle of the isle. “Well,” she said, “what a terrible location! It is right in the way!” Yes, it was in the way. On purpose.

God does that. God gets in our way, impositions us, will not be ignored, slows us down, makes us think, change direction, consider what we are doing, pay attention. Lent is unapologetically an imposition on our lives in a far more overt way than the rest of the year. Lent makes us slow down, think, change direction, pay attention to what we are doing. God gets in our way on purpose.

We are speeding down the road of life, doing pretty much whatever we want and then suddenly.. BAM.. there’s a speed bump in the middle of the road! BAM there’s a baptismal font standing right in the middle of the way into worship. BAM there’s Ash Wednesday right in the middle of the week, right as we are entering into spring. We might all be thinking about blooming daffodils, lawns that will soon need to be mown, hope for warming weather, plans for planting the spring garden and all those other early spring things and then BAM we are IMPOSITIONED by ASHES!

We stop. We consider what we are doing. We look around and consider one another, seeing the Body of Christ, each Christian, marked with the cross of Christ. We see the cross of Christ when we look at one another. Look around at each other now and see. Each face you see is one that is loved by God. Each person you see bears the image of God, the image of Christ’s great sacrifice and love.

A speed bump is something you can just fly right on past if you want, perhaps even slam over at full speed. But a speed bump is also something that can slow you down so that you can see the child running across the street in time to stop, so you can be seen by the other driver at the intersection and not have a wreck. Maybe there are other reasons for speed bumps too, like being able to notice the world around you.

These crosses of ashes are speed bumps designed to be in the way so that we cannot look at one another without realizing that other is someone God loves, would die for, bears the image of God just as we do. We look at ourselves in the mirror and see this imposition on our own body. How many times a day do we belittle or beat ourselves up over our mistakes and flaws? How often do we have an inappropriate self-esteem that is ether too low or too high? How frequently do we choose poor stewardship of ourselves by treat ourselves poorly or over indulging in self-harming habits? When you leave tonight, look at yourself in the mirror before you wash off the ash. See that cross? See that mark of Christ’s love and sacrifice for you? It’s on there all the time, just as it is for everyone here, it is only that on this night we can see them for ourselves. This is God getting in our way of judging our neighbors, our enemies, and even ourselves. This is God’s speed bump that makes us slow down and pay attention to what we are doing, how we are treating one another, how we are treating ourselves, think and observe our own actions and, perhaps, change direction.

The other thing that the word IMPOSITION means is to place a burden on someone. We are given an imposition of ashes, the burden of this cross, for many reasons. Most importantly, however, is the burden this cross symbolizes that is lifted from us and borne by Christ instead. Remember, o mortal, you are dust and to dust you shall return. Christ has taken this burden on himself; our burden of death upon himself. And destroyed it. Remember, o mortal, you are dust and to dust you shall return. But not forever, for Christ has ultimately destroyed death and graciously granted us eternal life. These ashes are but a shadow of what death once was.

We are called by God to be imposition by Lent. We could just speed right through it like one of those frustrating speed bumps. But there is probably a good reason, both for ourselves and for others, for us to consider this particular speed bump. So I invite you to embrace the imposition of Lent. Slow down a bit and look for the ways that God is getting in your way. Pay attention to the crosses, both visible this night and invisible but still present on other nights, which are on the faces of those around you and on your own.

May we all be able to see God’s imposition upon us as God’s blessing for us.