All Saints and Fall Back!

October 30 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

When Pigs Fly!

Here is an exerpt from this upcoming Sunday’s sermon
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“….This image is related to this week’s gospel lesson which is a fascinating and detailed story about Jesus removing the demons from a suffering man. This is a remarkable text in that it is perhaps the only time in all of scripture that we get a taste of Deviled Ham!

In all seriousness, this is an intriguing text with several interesting parts to it. Once, while studying this text for a Sunday school lesson, a friend of mine said: Sometimes, I own a herd of pigs. They are my herd. I am tending them as I know best. Then God uses them in a way that does not go along with my intentions or understanding. It just feels like I have had to sacrifice what is mine and what I understand to be right for me. But in the end they are not my pigs; they are God’s.

My friend doesn’t really own a heard of pigs, she was speaking symbolically. But this perspective can make us think: Who are we in the story? Who are you?

First there are the disciples who are silent observers of all that happens at this event. Their silence might be because they are a little bit shell shocked because according to the section just prior to this, they have just come through a big storm on the way to this place and, just as they thought they were going to die at sea, their rabbi stood up in the middle of the boat and commanded the waves, wind, and storm to be still. And it was all still. They were in shock, of course.

Also in this scene are some pig herders. They are minding their own business, tending their pigs. They are Gentiles, of course, because the Hebrews do not deal with swine of any kind. It is against their food purity laws.

Then there are the people of the community, watching all of this take place. Some of them had tried to help the man, at least help him not hurt himself or anyone else by chaining him. It certainly looks awful but it was probably the best they could do. They are most likely gentiles, too, because this is gentile that Jesus and his disciples are traveling through.

There is the most prominent character: the man with the demon. He is broken, and bruised as we can imagine. What a rollercoaster life he has lived; sometimes chained up in the city, in bondage and not free but in his community, and other times wild and naked in the cemetery, where he is free from his chains but where he is in isolation. Outcast and alone but not, as it happens, alone at all. He is most likely a gentile as well.

The reason it matters that most of these people are gentiles and not Jews is because Jesus is not in Jewish territory. He has intentionally gone out of the Jewish lands and into the surrounding areas which might have the occasional Jew living there but are mostly populated with non-Jews. He has shown up in a land and to a people who do not worship the God of the Jews and do not follow Jewish law. They are not a people who grew up knowing about the prophecies of the Messiah who is to come to put the world aright. They do not know about any of God’s promises or covenants the way that the Hebrews do and the fact that Jesus is the Messiah and  the Son of God would have nearly no significance for them.

Then we also have the two sinister characters: the demons Legion, who are about their business of tearing things up, damaging people’s lives, breaking and destroying everything possible. An agent of chaos at work.

And lastly, we have Jesus, Son of the Most High God. He’s called by that title by these demons in this gentile land. The disciples can barely discern who this man, their friend and teacher, really is and will continue to have a difficult time grasping the truth that he is the Messiah, Son of God, but even the evil spirits in a land that does not know the God of the Jews knows the power of Jesus……..”

Want to read more? Visit The Shepherdess Writes or, even better, visit Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Sylva on Sunday morning at 11am

See you there!