Lent 2019

Robert Fulghum’s 1986 bestselling book title All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten is something that I still hear quoted.  I suppose this is probably because its simplicity both captures our imaginations and calms our anxiety.  It is comforting to consider the thought that we already know all that we need to know in order to solve our problems of social discord and create harmony.  But Rodney King articulated a similar sentiment in the form of a question, when in the face of the riots occurring in Los Angeles after the acquittal of the officers who beat him he asked: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

We may have learned it in Kindergarten, but adulthood has a way of diluting and maybe erasing our memories.

It’s hard to argue with the truth of Fulghum’s assertion or King’s question.  The solution they both point to is pretty obvious.  If we want social order and communal harmony we need to acknowledge the value of all human beings, honor difference, restrain our reactive or violent impulses, learn to share, and grant one another the space to grow.  Or as Jesus put it, we need to treat others the way we would like to be treated.

Voila!  Problem solved!  Now let’s get on with life as we live into this value.

But of course the problem isn’t solved.  While we know what it would take to solve it, we somehow keep failing in implementation.  Wisdom allows us to observe the causes of our discord and posit the simple solution of stepping back from those behaviors that perpetuate the problem, but unfortunately it cannot explain or heal whatever it is that sustains us in our endless chain of destructive behaviors.   

I think this conundrum is one of the reasons why I have come to love the Book of Ecclesiastes.  I love the honesty of this book that over and over again points to the absurdities of human behavior and history.  It simply tells it like it is. This preacher in Ecclesiastes proposes no solution; he simply stares full face into the problem and chooses to continue to work with life’s questions.  Yet he does so acknowledging that while he may not have enough knowledge to figure out the “whys” of life, there is One who does, and we would do well to engage life in such a way that we acknowledge the presence of this One who made us.

Seasons come and go. There are times of war and peace, times of birth and death, times for sowing and reaping.  Yet as these seasons come and go we do not have enough “eternity in our hearts” to figure out the whole picture.  So we continue to struggle to figure it out, sometimes making progress and fostering life and at other times making old mistakes that merely add to history’s pile of death and decay.

Yet the preacher doesn’t just cynically shrug at life’s absurdity and say “deal with it.”  He doesn’t, like philosopher Albert Camus, point to Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill only to watch it roll back down and advise us to seek our happiness within the limits of this absurdity.  He invites us to do something that will ultimately give shape and meaning to our lives.  He invites us to consider the God who made us and to be on the lookout for God’s presence even in the most confounding circumstances of life.

 Confronted with the frightful realities of the shaking mountains and raging and foaming waters of the earth, the Psalmist in Psalm 46 finds solace in the assurance that “the Lord of hosts is with us [and] the God of Jacob is our refuge.”  St. Paul tells us the same truth when he writes “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).  The stabilizing truth that greets us irrespective of the ebb and flow of life’s seasons is Jesus’ promise that he will be with us always.   While this steadfast presence and companionship may not explain every mystery or solve every problem, it does provide us with a stabilizing relationship that enables us to navigate the twists and turns of life.   And so we pray, “O Christ, surround us.”  Show us where you are, and so expose us to the truth of who we are created to be.           

 (Dave Rohrer, 3/4/19)

February 2019

In my 37 years of pastoral ministry I have probably presided at about 300 weddings.  That’s a lot.  Sometimes it feels like too many.  Too much of a good thing can be too much.  Unfortunately, familiarity can breed contempt.  Or if not contempt, this familiarity with weddings has at times bred a certain degree of cynicism in me. 

I’ve had my moments when it has been hard for me to preside over these expensive celebrations of love.  Frankly, they can seem a bit delusional.   For I know at some point this love that the couple has fallen into, this power greater than themselves that has overwhelmed them, this storybook feeling that they think will never diminish, will in fact come under question.  They will experience that moment of waking up, looking over at their spouse and wondering who that person is and why they ever chose to get married.  With an exasperated sigh they will conclude “He/She is not the person I married.”  And if they happen to come back to me for counseling in the wake of this disturbing discovery, what I will eventually say to them is something like: “Thank God he/she is not the person you married.  Now you have the chance to get to know who she/he really is.  And the good news is that he/she is probably a lot more interesting and exciting than who you thought she/he was.”  

The love we fall into may be what initiates our relationship and inspires us to take the leap of commitment in marriage or friendship.  But the love that sustains any relationship is the love we choose.   Another name for it is covenant love:  A conscious choice to seek the other’s best and trust that the other is seeking your best.  When two people daily choose to love in this way, they grow into a deeper kind of love as they come to appreciate the gift that God has given them in the other.  They realize that this is a gift they will never stop unwrapping, for the depths of the mystery of the other are unfathomable and there will always be more to discover. 

It is this choice to love that describes God’s love toward us.  The New Testament writers used the word agape to describe this love.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son (John 3:16).” God chose to create us and chooses to pursue us and love us.  God seeks our best.  And God invites us to respond to that love by sharing the same kind of love with one another.  “We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).”  God’s love generates love in us.   My seminary preaching professor put it this way: “Agape, is the love that makes the loved one lovely.”  

God’s love makes us lovely.   It is a love that grows us in our ability to love others.  It is the love that both builds up our self-esteem and equips us with the energy to extend ourselves for the sake of the other.  It delivers us into a place that cupid’s arrows cannot.  For it does not mesmerize with passion as much as it calls forth gratitude for a gift that we cannot help but give away.  It is thus, as St. Paul says, the love that “never ends, (1 Cor. 13:8),” for the Source of this love will never stop loving us and therefore never stop growing that love in us.

(Dave Rohrer, 2/4/19)

A Reflection on Our Life Together

Annual Meeting - January 27, 2019

now what.png

As we head into our 56th year of life together as a congregation, I am aware of a deep sense of gratitude to God for the gifts he has given us.  I’ve only been with you for six of those years, but that has been long enough to observe and benefit from these gifts.  The depth of our relationships with one another, a building that provides ample space for worship and fellowship, and houses our  Bothell Community Preschool and various community groups, and the beautiful piece of land on which our building sits are among the things with which God has blessed us.  We may not be congregation that has unlimited monetary resources, but we are nevertheless rich in the things that will sustain us and enable us to grow in and give witness to the abundant life that is available to all in Jesus Christ. 

 As I mentioned in a sermon series I preached in October and November, I see us as people who are poised on a threshold.  God has “set before us an open door” and it is fun to imagine what we are going to encounter as we cross over that threshold and take up God’s invitations to us in the next season of our life together.  As we do this, I think we are going to conceive of ourselves as more than a worshiping congregation.  While worship will always be central to who we are, what we do, and how we think about our building, I think we will be growing in our awareness of how this property is not just a resource that God is calling us maintain for our own activities, but also gift we are called to share with our community.

 This is not a new thing for us.  You were generous with your space long before now.  In fact, a few months after I started work here in 2013 I half-jokingly asked, “Does every member have a key to the place?” Openness and generosity, rather than fear and protectiveness have characterized the way you think about this place, and I thank God that I get to be pastor of a congregation of people who don’t give a second thought to how they can share this space with others who can make good use of it.

As we face into 2019 I think we are going to engage some questions that revolve around the stewardship of our buildings and land:

  • Our sanctuary seats about 140 people and we average about 120 people in worship each Sunday.  If we want to make space for the people who regularly visit us on Sunday at 10 am, without having to wait until someone else leaves, we are going to have to face the question of how we are going to increase capacity.  Do we add another service on Sunday?  Maybe we think about starting a new worshiping community on another day of the week?  Maybe we do nothing.  They are all live options.

  •  We are also currently without adequate space for adult education on Sundays.   While the sanctuary can be used for this kind of activity mid-week, we could greatly benefit from having some kind of meeting space other than what we have in our existing building.   It would also enhance our ability to offer space to various community groups?  What might that look like?  Where would we build it? Can we afford it?  How would having this space enhance our ministry and help us fulfill our mission?

  • In 2018 we fenced in a big portion of our grounds to create an organic garden.  We created Emmanuel Farm. Our neighbors took notice and some pitched in to help.  Those six foot sunflowers screamed with the message that we wanted to do something productive with our land.  Perhaps it was also a way of telling the realtors, who regularly send us letters offering to help us sell all or part of our property that we want to make productive use of our green space and don’t want to cover it with more parking or another set of condos.  A neighborhood that is becoming more densely populated will value this green space.  It’s a gift we can offer them.  But there are all sorts of questions that we need to ask ourselves about the next steps for Emmanuel Farm.  How big of a role will it play in our decisions about stewarding our land?

These are some of the questions the Emmanuel Session will be working with in 2019 and beyond.  They are a part of the unknown that lies across the threshold of the open door which God has set before us.  God has given us an enormous gift and we have some decisions to make about how we are going to steward it.   Pray for us as we work with these questions and join us in discussing the implications of these initiatives. 

Trusting in God’s Goodness to Guide Us,

Dave Rohrer, pastor

January 2019

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7) Jesus lets us know that we would be wise to refrain from judging others.   Few, if any of us, take his advice.  From personal experience I know I have an innate tendency to evaluate myself and others in terms of what I or they deserve.  I compare what I have done to what others have done or not done.  I make judgments based on that comparison and come to conclusions about what rewards certain behaviors merit and what punishments other behaviors deserve. 

When you get right down to it a good bit of human history seems to revolve around how we have dealt with this question of who deserves what and what standards of justice we will apply to answer that question.   We write laws that grow out of these standards and we trust these laws to restrain behaviors that grow out of selfish disregard of those standards.  Our laws are designed to protect those who follow the standards and punish those who don’t.  We hope that the law will insure that everyone gets what he/she deserves.

So, what is Jesus getting at when he tells us not to judge?  Obviously that basic commandment must be clothed in some nuances that help us to know when it is OK and not OK to judge.  My best guess at what he is getting at is wrapped up in a couple of things he states just a few sentences after the command to not judge.  He gives us examples of the judging we should and shouldn’t do.

Immediately after telling us not to judge he asks a question: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye and do not notice the log in your own eye?”  Then he invites us to be discerning to the point of not giving our time and energy to those whom we deem unable to receive and appreciate it: “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine.” 

In other words, if you’re going to judge, start with someone a little closer in who has more pressing issues than that speck you see in your neighbor’s eye.  Start with yourself.  Start by dealing with the log in your own eye.  Because by the time you get that log taken care of you probably won’t have much energy to deal with your neighbor’s speck.  

Also don’t use judgement as if you can wield it as a tool to reform or change the one you are judging.  Redemption and transformation are things that are above your pay grade.  So don’t waste your energy and your attention on trying to give something good to someone who doesn’t want it.  Dogs don’t know what to do with a holy thing.  They might give it a sniff but it won’t hold their interest.  And throwing pearls to swine as if they recognize their value. . . ?   Well, that’s just a silly thing to do. 

So Jesus is not saying don’t judge at all.  Clearly, he invites us to be discerning and to make judgments about the rightness and wrongness of our own and other people’s behavior.  But what he prohibits is something that is not in our wheelhouse in the first place.  What he prohibits is acting as if we are God.  St. Paul says it well in Romans 12 when he equates genuine love for one another with, among other things, the choice to “leave room for the wrath of God. “ (Rom . 12:19)  In other words, let God do what only God can do.  Your wrath is really not that powerful, and your love doesn’t have the capacity to transform the life of the one whose behavior offends you.  So leave room for God.  Entrust others to God.  In the long run we’ll be much happier if we do.  To release our grip on what we cannot change and make space for God to achieve what we cannot affect, is a choice that simply makes good sense. 

[Dave Rohrer, 1/1/2019]

October 2018

Of all of the critiques one could make of the contemporary American Church, the one that rises to the top of my list is that congregations spend way too much time thinking about themselves.  In this age where marketing is king and identity politics rule the day, congregations have jumped on the bandwagon and give an inordinate amount of their energy to designing and promoting their particular brand. 

Of course, the whole enterprise of marketing the church has its roots in our fear.  In the face of a significant decline in church attendance and a marked rise in the number of people who declare themselves to have no religious affiliation (aka: the Nones), congregations are scrambling to woo people into their houses of worship.  The church as institution is trying to sustain itself, and who can blame us.

 But there is a problem with this.  Put simply: people aren’t in the market for a church.  That’s not what they’re shopping for.  In most cases the people who walk in our doors are looking for God, or for community, or for purpose, or for a way to help the world.  In short, they aren’t looking for a church per se, they simply need a church to help them to find what they are looking for.  They hope that the church will be a place where they can meet this felt need for participation in a reality that is bigger than themselves.

 Given this perspective, you can see why I am reticent to talk too much about the church.  As I have said before, few, if any, of us need more church in our lives.  What we need is a growing sense that God is at work in our lives and in our world.  What we need is to be reminded that we are loved by God and invited by God to embark on a journey of transformation as we follow Jesus.  What we need is to be encouraged to rest in our identity in Christ and so become reflectors of God’s love in our world.  Meetings and sermons about mission statements, mobilization and money are not really the stuff that sustains this journey.

 And yet… , because we are an organization with a building and budgets we have to occasionally step back from the act of being the church to reconsider and remind ourselves  who we are and why we do what we do.  We have to think about the resources we need to sustain our life together and we have to prioritize the various tasks we need to accomplish in order to meet this goal of sustainability.  We need to do the work of reflection that will enable us to continue to take action.  We have to pause to remember the journey behind us and listen for God’s invitations concerning what might be ahead of us.  It’s our version of taking time out from our regular programming for a “pledge break.”

 I must confess I find pledge breaks irritating.  I find leading them even more onerous.  But they help us to step back and humbly remember that the house of the Lord occasionally needs paint and we are charged with the task of repainting it.  That’s what stewardship is.  It is the simple act of gratefully taking care of something that does not belong to us but which we know is a great benefit to us:  A benefit worth preserving and sharing with others. 

 So we’re going to take a pledge break for six weeks in October and November and give ourselves to the work of reflecting on where we have been and where we might be going.  In a series of sermons entitled “Now What?”  I hope to invite us into a process of celebrating God’s faithfulness to us and challenging one another to look for the open door he has set before us (Revelation 3:7).     

 Emmanuel Presbyterian Church is God’s gift to us.  It is a place that brings together people who are looking for food for the journey of faith.  It provides us with the opportunity to meet together to encourage one another and stir up one another to love and good works.  These gifts are part of what empowers us to notice and walk through the open door that God has set before us.  As pastor I am looking forward to discovering with you what God has for us as we together walk across that threshold. 

 

September 2018

I wish I had a dollar for every time over the last 36 years someone has chortled and elbowed me as they have made what to them was the original observation that I probably have lots of time because I only work one day a week.  In these latter years, I have taken to the practice of responding to this old joke with the quip: “Yes, it’s true, and I want to thank you for the healthy retainer you pay me to be on call the other six days.”

There was a day when I would defensively attest to the number of hours I was in the office or try to make a show of how busy I was in order to head off any suspicion of the inordinate amount of leisure in my week.  Yet with time I have become better at shrugging off the accusation, smiling at the joke and quietly resting in the importance of that one day. 

Sabbath sets the course for the other six days.  To orchestrate the gathering that redirects our attention to the One in whom all things cohere (Col. 1:17), is a privilege and responsibility that never ceases to challenge, gratify and edify me.  I get to lead people in worship. I get to invite people to draw near to God and hold fast to the confession of our hope.  I get to be a part of a community where people accept the call to encourage one another and stir up one another to reflect God’s love by doing good works  in our world (Heb. 10:19-25). It’s a great gig, and one of the greatest things about it is the gift of seeing how you experience the presence of God and participate in the work of God during your other six days.

When Jesus called his first disciples, he did not present them with a proposal to build a church.  Nor did he present them with a document containing a list of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors that they needed to affirm before they could be a part of his posse.  He simply asked them to follow him, to come and see. As they followed they observed and became a part of his redemptive work.  And when he departed from them he asked them to continue this journey and to invite others to join them.

The church comes about because we need one another in order to continue the journey.   Emmanuel Presbyterian Church is a container for something much bigger than itself.  It holds a particular group of disciples of Jesus who have covenanted with God and one another to keep following Jesus.  The church helps us to set our course.  What we do on the one day is meant to energize and equip us for our other six days.  In short, the church doesn’t need us, we need the church.  So as the writer of Hebrews admonishes us, don’t neglect to meet together.  Come take what you need and give what is necessary to sustain the church’s ability to continue to energize its people.  We’ve all got six days of living to do and by coming together on the seventh day we rest in God and ready ourselves for the challenge and the joy of the journey.

April 2018

Practice Resurrection.  This is the last piece of advice that Wendell Berry gives in his poem “Manifesto:The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.”  The poem is basically an invitation to enlarge the stunted imagination of our world’s conventional wisdom and set life in a bigger context.  In short, Berry’s call is to set our lives in a story that we do not control but in which we participate. Namely: the life God intended for us to live. 

Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10)”, and this abundant life is something that is available to us now.  It is, however, a life that we grow into.  It is a life that is guided by a continual process of waking up to what it looks like to participate in eternal life.  It is a life where we give ourselves to the task of practicing resurrection.

Basically, what this means is that we pursue what lasts.  On the one hand this means facing into the inevitability of our death and investing in what outlives us.  Yet it also means acknowledging the reality of eternal life and enthusiastically, steadfastly “abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord our labor is not in vain. (1 Cor .15:58)” 

In Jesus’ teaching about this eternal life we can live right now, he essentially invites us to live into a world where people are more important than things. He calls us to see how our present relationships are more lasting than the legacies we try to build.  He admonishes us to step back and acknowledge the ways in which we “spend our money for that which is not bread and our labor for that which does not satisfy (Isaiah 55:2)”; but he also points the way to living water and the bread of life. 

The idea of practicing resurrection reminds us that the journey of faith is just that: a journey.  And this journey is not about striving to arrive at a place of perfection, or striving to acquire a set of resources, so much as it is about a quiet, consistent determination to move toward the One who has invited us to exchange our restlessness for the rest we find when we occupy the place God has prepared for us.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

2017 Annual Report from Heidi Greider, Director of Christian Education

This is now my 5th annual meeting and once again it has been an eventful year in our life together.  We said goodbye to several families and friends who’ve been with us for a few years which is always difficult, even though they all left to be in places they feel called to go.  We had the opportunity to send them off with love and prayer, knowing that they will continue to be surrounded by the love of God and the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit. Included in those who left were several volunteers who helped with our nursery and preschool so that gave others the chance to serve.

This year and going forward we have welcomed new families and volunteers to our community.  I would like to highlight a few in particular.  Hannah and Maya Schlosser-Hall joined us in VBS this summer and have continued to help with the preschool class once a month.  This has led to an internship for Maya from February until she leaves for college in August.  Maya plans on being a teacher and I am excited to work with and encourage her in developing her gifts.  One of our priorities will be to have regular youth gatherings 1-2x a month.  My daughter, Hannah Greider, and Alex Musar have stepped in to help with the nursery and elementary children which has been a joy for me.  They will also be heading off to school next fall and I will continue to enjoy having their talents and joy for children around as long as possible.

It seems that God brings people who love children into our midst at just the right time.  If that is you and you would like to be involved in some way this summer or next fall, please let me know.  The nursery is an especially crucial ministry because it involves the youngest and most vulnerable members of our community and a couple more “once a month” volunteers are needed now to shower these infants and toddlers with love as their parents worship.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the loving care that Mary Ann Rohrer has given for the past 5 ½ years and as she is needing to step back from her role as primary caregiver I want to say a huge thank you for all the mornings she made our littlest ones feel welcome and loved!

Finally, I want to say thank you for supporting me in the path to ordination that culminated on October 8th.  I am extremely grateful that God called me to this congregation 4 years ago and that you continue to support my calling and encourage me in my role as pastor.  I can’t think of a better place to be ordained than in the midst of this amazingly spirit-filled community.  I look forward to how God will lead us in the coming year. 

With much joy and gratitude, 

Reverend Heidi Greider (I couldn’t resist!)

January 2018 

One of my responsibilities in the first congregation I served after graduating from seminary was the oversight of a fellowship group of single young adults.  Since I was a single young adult at the time it was a reasonable assumption that I would be a good fit for this job.  The work of managing church programs in general was sort of a new beast to me and so I began to talk to members of the group about what they wanted from the group and why they would choose to be a part of it.  Perhaps the most memorable conversation was with a man in the group who responded to my inquiry with: “The best kind of church singles group is the one you don’t have show up to.”  

I wasn’t really sure what he meant by this remark.  His frankness stunned me.  It seemed flippant and off putting.  But before I could ask a follow-up question, he began to explain what he meant.  He said, “The best kind of church fellowship group is the one I can decide to go to or not go to at the last minute. That way I can keep my options open.  It needs to be there and have a critical mass that keeps it going whether I am there or not.  It needs to be there when I can or want to go, but I really don’t want the obligation of having to be a part of keeping it going.”

It was honest.  Selfish and narrow perhaps, but nevertheless honest.  And I appreciated the honesty.  I appreciate it even more now as I think back on this conversation 35 years after it took place.  Once I get past the off-putting selfishness of this remark, I hear in it something that I think is true for most of us when it comes to how we want to think about and participate in the life of the church.  Bottom line is that we don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about how to keep the church going, we simply want it to be there for us.  We know we need it and we want to be sure that someone will be there when we show up.  When we feel that need to remind ourselves about what is important in life, when we want to re-root ourselves in the fertile soil of God’s love, when we know we need to pray about something and would appreciate the opportunity to ask others to pray with us, we appreciate the fact that the church is there and ready to meet these needs. 

I guess another way to say all of this is that none of us really need “the church.”  We need what happens there.  We need to sit shoulder to shoulder with someone who is joining with us in the praise of God and who is willing to accept the job of helping to us to bear burdens that seem too big to bear alone.   

The church is important to us as followers of Jesus in the same way a house is important to a family.  A house is not what defines a family, nor is it the focus of a family’s concern.  A house holds a family, gives it a place to be.  It is the context of a family’s life together and is necessary only in so far as it provides a space for the work of being a family to take place.  What makes a house a home is the family that dwells inside of it.  The point is the family, not the house, and the house needs to be attended to only in so far as it is an instrument in the work of insuring the family’s health.  

At the end of Hebrews 10:19-25, which is one of my favorite descriptions of the church, the writer admonishes us to “not neglect to meet together as is the habit of some.”  In essence, he invites us to show up and be the church, the family of God, to one another.   The work of a disciple of Jesus is not so much to support the church as it is to be the church.  The goal is not to commit ourselves to keeping the church going or attending to its needs, but to give to and draw from one another what we need to sustain the journey of faith.  

Like the young man I mentioned at the beginning, all of us want the church to be there whether we are there or not. We don’t want to have to think about it much, and that’s probably a good thing because it is not an end in itself.  The church is not the point.  The church points to the Point.  The best thing about the church is that it is there and ready to contain the generative and nurturing work of forming and launching a family.  But we do need to show up if we are to take advantage of and contribute to this work.  That is, after all, the only way we can be certain that the church will be there when we feel the need of it. 

Dave Rohrer, January 1, 2018