Dear Partners in Ministry,
Have you ever gotten a picture post card in the mail from a friend or relative who was travelling showing an item of interest that read something like, “I wish you were here!”? Boy, that is what happened last Saturday at our 2nd Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM) Retreat. It was interesting to watch members of our churches support each other as they shared stories of the ministries going on in their congregations. We are discovering that this exchange of experiences is one of the blessings of this ministry that we are doing together. You could sense the excitement being generated as curiosity about what the other congregations were planning mounted. As goals for ministry were shared and details gleaned, other ideas were generated and shared. Members began to envision similar ministries or outreach opportunities in their congregations that could be modified, improved upon or tried as the opportunity or need arises.
The discussion reminded me of the contrasts in those monstrous Gospel lessons of the last two Sundays from the Gospel of John. First there was the story of Nicodemus, a religious leader of the Jews, a Pharisee who, with his emphasis on customs and traditions, was interested enough to go to see Jesus, the very teacher his colleagues were rejecting, but who could not grasp what Jesus was offering him (John 3:1-20). Then we heard the story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:5-42), whose curiosity and vulnerability left her open to the source of new life Jesus was offering and whose testimony about her encounter with Jesus ended up leading many to faith. Not once during the retreat did I hear the protective fallback position of, “We could never do that!” or the Nicodemus type questions that sap so much energy as we try to move ahead with new ideas and approaches from those that have left our churches stuck in the same place for so long. It was so refreshing to see us gain confidence and hope from each other as we realized that the struggles that we have been experiencing really pale in comparison to those real world problems of natural and man-made disasters that are truly a nightmare. There is lots of misery out there. It can be found around the globe or it can be hidden in plain sight in the house next door. By coming together and sharing our struggles as God’s people we gained a different perspective. The real question for me as we move ahead in our ministries is, “How will we support each other as we use our hands to do God’s work?”
It was in this vein that I watched and listened with fascination to the congregational representatives mutually encourage and inspire each other’s thought processes. This stimulation enabled the group as a whole to begin exploring the future unknowns of their individual congregation’s walk of faith. Recognizing their individual histories as a source of strength instead of an anchor holding back their congregations, they were able to use their histories as a fulcrum or leverage point to create energy, direction and hope for the future.
Recently, while studying Hebrews 11, which deals with the faith of Abraham, I found highlighted there a contrast between fear and faith. It states there that fear causes us to look forward with anxiety and trepidation over what might happen and thereby blocks us from experiencing the possibilities and joys that may be around the next bend in the road. On the other hand, faith gains its strength from looking back and recalling how the Lord has protected and provided us with all we need and he promises to continue to do so in the future. As Jesus said to his disciples before his ascension, “For lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20b) This makes it possible for us to step out each day in the power of God’s promise.
Nicodemus was inhibited by what was familiar and comfortable to him. Therefore, he was unable to claim the new life Jesus was offering him. This is a common dilemma in which we church folk so often find ourselves. On the other hand, the Samaritan woman knew life was hard and so was looking for and open to a Savior who could, “proclaim all things to us.” (John 4:26b) As we continue our Lenten Journey this year may we acknowledge with conviction the Lord’s blessings bestowed in days gone by and willingly step out as new Easter people of the resurrection, always seeking the new life that is ours in Christ through the waters of baptism.
You know, when Ben Roethlisberger was penalized and not allowed to play 4 to 6 games last fall and when Sidney Crosby was pulled because of a concussion, their teams could have crumbled in despair and beaten themselves, thus losing their seasons. Instead, they rallied and looked to new players and strategies, which played to their strengths, and did very well for their teams and their fans. May we do likewise, using the many gifts, talents and abilities to be found in our small churches to reach out to the communities in which we are planted.
We “PLUM-MERS” still have a lot to learn but I am just as sure that we are on the right road. “Boy, am I glad you are here!” as we undertake this journey together.
In Christ’s Service,
Pastor John Gropp
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773