Holy Week Schedule

Palm Sunday 4/9 Worship 11am

Maundy Thursday 4/13 5:30pm

Good Friday 4/14 5:30pm????????

Easter Vigil 4/15 5:30pm

Easter Sunday Breakfast 4/16 9am

Festival of the Resurrection Easter Sunday Worship 4/16

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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.

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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.

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.

All Saints’ Sunday

This Sunday is full of lots of interesting things at Shepherd of the Hills, so come join us!IMG_0225

+ 10 am in the Sanctuary- All Saints’ Commemoration with lighting of the candles. This will be a roughly 30 minute service of prayer, scripture, and contemplative music for those who wish to light candles for those we remember this day who have died. We celebrate their life in the perpetual light of God. These candles will remain lit for our regular 11am service.

+ 11 am- Worship with Holy Communion. With our regular Sunday service, we will celebrate All Saints’ Day and honor those saints who have helped to form our faith.

+ Congregational Meeting will be after worship in the fellowship hall. Delicious finger food will be provided by the Fellowship Committee so plan to stay for this meeting where we will discus the 2015 budget.

 Hope to see you all there!

 Also, DON’T FORGET TO SET YOUR CLOCK BACK ONE HOUR!  Daylight savings Fall Back time change.

Heaven on Earth

Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush, afire with God–Elizabeth Barret Browningcross bonnie

Season of Creation Year A 1st Sunday  Genesis 2:4b-10, 16-22  Colossians 1:15-20  John 3:1-17 (more information on the Season of Creation coming soon)

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son… in order that the world might be saved through him.
Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
A friend of mine was at a conference recently at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC and at this conference there was much conversation about concern for the natural world; the land, the forests, the rivers, the oceans, the air. The conversation centered around both the ways in which the natural world has been damaged or is out of balance and the inextricable human connection to the natural world. A comment was made about how sad it was that religious people do not seem to care about the earth very much. Particularly, it was said, Christians because for all the good that some Christian groups may do, caring for creation is a low priority. Can they not see how interconnected we all are?
When I heard this, I was immediately defensive, of course! After all, we have a special ministry devoted to environmental stewardship, The Good Shepherds of the Earth, and every committee, virtually every member of our church family has become a part of the effort to be better stewards of our part of the world. At the same time, this idea that Christians in particular were not very interested in creation care as a significant ministry was intriguing. Is that true? Why? And should it be or should it not be of great importance to us?
After some research it seems that, indeed, Christianity as a whole is not particularly interested in the natural world, or at least not interested in actively pursuing careful and intentional stewardship and teaching others to do the same. The ELCA does have an entire ministry focusing on this called Caring for Creation. It is considered a social ministry along with Health and Wellness, Hunger and Poverty, Race and Ethnicity and Cultural concerns. We are not alone in this because many major denominations have ministries with some sort of environmental concern, but on the whole, the church is not known for its deep and passionate care for the natural world.
Perhaps we might reconsider this.
It is possible that many do not consider the earth to be a priority for our Christian call because of texts just like the one I read from the Gospel of John. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. That’s all about our belief, right? That’s all about people, what human beings believe and the saving of people. And it is indeed about faith in Christ, but it might be about something more, too.
Looking at the whole of scripture, we see breathtaking descriptions of the natural world. From the immense scale of the creation story and the tree of life and tree of wisdom, to the tree in Revelation whose leaves are for the healing of the nations and the river running from the throne of God; from the rising flood waters and the ark full of living creatures to Job’s encounter with God and the four chapters through which God describes in rich detail the majesty of God’s creation in the natural world; from Elijah’s earthquake, whirlwind and fire to the many agricultural metaphors of Jesus and image of him coming up out of the river Jordan in his baptism, the bible is full of connection to nature. The trees and waters clap their hands, the seas and everything in them shout, and the mountains sing out in praise of God. The sun and moon and all the shining stars are called upon to praise God. The stones will cry out if people will not, and perhaps most poignantly is the suffering earth, who received the blood of the first human murder, and all of creation suffering together until being set free by God.
So, let’s look again at John chapter 3. For God so loved the world. Literally, the Greek says: for this is the way God loved the Cosmos. Jesus is telling Nicodemus, the man who wants to know him, and he is telling us, about the way in which God loves…not just Nicodemus, not just you and me, not just people but, rather, this is the way God loved the Cosmos. All things, as we say in the Nicene Creed: all things, seen and unseen. As was in our second text for today: things visible and invisible, all things whether on earth or in heaven.
How does God love all things? By sending Jesus. By giving Jesus. To us.
God loves the cosmos by giving Jesus to us. And our belief, our faith in Jesus is somehow connected to God’s love of the cosmos.
Jesus goes on to say that it was not condemnation for the cosmos that he brought but rather salvation for the cosmos. “In order that the cosmos might be saved through him.” Our faith, our believe in Jesus Christ is surely connected to salvation, but these two verses, among many more in scripture, say that God is saving the world, all creation, the cosmos created by God from the tiniest particle to the grandest star and all things in between, through Jesus Christ.
The first of our four weeks of this creation series is titled: Forest. This is something we are all familiar with because we are in the Nantahala National Forest at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world. In other words, there is a greater variety of living beings in our area than in most every other place you’re likely to visit. Do you want to see the grandeur of God? Go to the Blue Ridge Parkway and listen to the layers and layers of ancient rolling mountains whisper of their creator. The tenderness of God? The God who cares for all that is small and fragile? Find the wildflowers, the butterflies, the salamanders, the nearly infinite number of small creatures living all around us and see how lovingly they have each been made. Do you wish to see the power of God? Stand in the creeks and streams, visit the Tuckaseege River and see power that can be fast and mighty or patient and slow, changing a landscape overnight or over a century. Do you want some idea of the way God creates all things for a purpose? Look at the whole of the forest and see, from the greatest to the smallest, all things having a place and purpose for their lives.
All these things, along with so many places in scripture where God’s amazing power and love is illustrated through natural images, so many other places where God’s love of the world he created is vividly present, even back to the beginning of Genesis where God said that all that he had made, regardless of the length of the timeline, was Very Good, points to the fact that God cares about all of it; all the animals, all the plants, all the earth, all the forces of nature, all the rivers, streams, oceans and lakes, all the deserts and mountains (especially the mountains!), all the people and stars and planets and all that is as yet unseen. For God so loves every last bit of creation, loves us all so much, that he gave us Jesus.

Perhaps those of us who believe in Jesus, are called to love creation, too.

Some of the texts referenced above are: Romans 8:22, Luke 19:40, Isaiah 55:13, Psalms 148:3-5, and Genesis 1,2,3