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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Easter Here and God's Timing

It's the Thursday after Easter. The week I kept saying I would do everything I couldn't get to during Lent.

It's also the week I thought might be a bit more kick-back. But given that some business matters had to wait until after Easter, it has not been a kick-back week.

Logic sometimes eludes pastors (obviously if you push back administrative matters until after Easter, the week after Easter will not be relaxing!)

So what are my thoughts after this, my first Easter as an ordained pastor, my first Easter sermon?

Well, I don't want to spoil my sermon for this Sunday, but I did want to reflect on my first Easter here and the days that followed.

I grew up in a huge congregation where Easter services happened on the hour: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, noon. This year that congregation had more than 6,000 people attend services.

My internship congregation was pretty similar, if not the "on the hour" services, we still had more than I think 4,000 people.

There was this huge buzz surrounding Easter Sundays there: special music, huge flowers, and I guess a sense that we as the Church had "made it." A day for celebration, not only of resurrection, but of all the folks who still considered it important to come to church and say: "He is risen indeed!"

As Easter approached at St. Philip, and we got a great turnout for our Holy Week services, I was hoping we'd be busting at the seams, necessitating an extra service for next year at least. I wanted chairs prepared in the narthex, unfamiliar faces, a chance to bring new people into our church through the joy and celebration of Easter.

So Easter came, starting with a beautiful Easter breakfast at church with nearly 70 people in attendance. A few folks brought their families, and when it was all said and done, we had 110 people in worship. The mood was joyous, the music beautiful, and I was honored to preach the Good News of Good News, Jesus' resurrection, on my first Easter sermon.

Still though, when we came home and Jake went to nap, inside I couldn't help but feel a bit deflated. The buzz, triumphant feeling I'd expected with Easter was not entirely there. I hadn't seen a lot of new faces at worship; instead of feeling satisfied I felt hungrier than ever to do more ... restless ...

As I've thought about it throughout the week, I've come to a few conclusions:

1) Feeling restless after Easter is a good, Christian thing. Easter isn't about triumphalism. Jesus' resurrection represents the BEGINNING not the end of our work as Jesus followers here on earth.

2) Welcome to being a pastor. If I've learned anything by being the solo pastor here at St. Philip, it's that being the solo or lead pastor is a whole new deal, different than serving as an intern or an assistant in the past. As my home congregation pastor always says: "Every week has a Sunday." The week after Easter brings council meetings and staff changes and yes another new sermon.

To be honest, I think most pastors long for that hunger, that challenge, that I've felt in these days following Easter.

I know a pastor who about 10 years ago planted a new congregation. It's now one of the largest churches in the ELCA, a shining point and a well-oiled machine. Yet he still feels hungry. He's dying to plant a new congregation again, to feel that hunger that I felt Easter Sunday morning.

We're at an exciting stage here. Having room to grow, seats to fill, is an exciting thing. We had 110 people for Easter this year -- next year perhaps we'll need those extra chairs in the narthex, as the sanctuary holds about 150.

I am grateful for the challenge and the way that God feeds us manna and sustenance where and when we need it.

3) God has God's own timing, and provides for our needs in seasons.

Part of the strangeness in this week following Easter is the way that God is providing even in the midst of changes and goodbyes.

One of the most inspiring things we saw on Easter was watching one of our new members come early and throughout the week, revamping our audio system to make sure the music sounded as good as it could. Then he was up in front, directing our high school brass quintet and jumping over to conduct the choir as needed.

His energy has been contagious I think throughout this place, and he does it all without fanfare, as though he feels God calling him to this place at this time, and now he is here and he is all in.

St. Philip is an "all-in" church. At my previous congregations, we had a lot of folks who would consider us their home church, but only attend really sporadically on Christmas, Easter, and a few other Sundays.

Here, we had over 60 people here for Good Friday, 74 for Palm Sunday, and 110 for Easter. That's not a huge change -- and what it says to me is that when people decide to be a member at St. Philip: today or 45 years ago - they make a commitment. They're here not just for the Easter service but for breakfast and for Bible Study and for the Sunday after Easter. This committed core is what has sustained the church and what will continue to sustain us as we grow and seek God's new direction.

St. Philip has another big change this week. Today is our parish administrator, Tricia's, last day. Tricia started here in January, but her husband Alan, was recently offered a great job in Austin, Texas, and they're moving next week. The move will also hopefully help Tricia's health, as she suffers from a health condition that is exacerbated by cold weather, which we have plenty of in Chicago.

In her short three months here, Tricia has been a blessing to me and to the church. We spent lots of time in the back office, talking and organizing, and she has laid a great foundation of organization and new processes for church administration.

She was invested not just for her paycheck but because she truly cared about St. Philip and the mission of Jesus Christ that is lived out here.

When she told me in March that this move might be a possibility, I was sad. She had been such a great partner for me as we implemented a new church website, social media, and continued work on bulletins, newsletters, worship slideshows.

That evening, I shared this potential news in confidence with two of our executive council members, one of whom had previously worked in church administration. She surprised me by saying she would be interested in the job.

A few weeks later, when Tricia officially gave her notice, I went and met with this executive council member, and we prayed together, and she again said she thought she'd like to do the job.

That evening, she received her work permit for the United States, as she is a British citizen.

Neither of us could believe God's timing, and today, on Tricia's last day, we talked again about the ways God has worked to provide our needs each season.

God provided Tricia to St. Philip for an important season of growth and establishing new media and organization. He provided Tricia to me as a friend and a valued partner for the church. She even babysat Jake for us with her husband. I will miss her, but I know we'll continue to stay in touch via Facebook and texting -- as we did frequently throughout her time here -- and I know God has fantastic plans for Tricia and her husband in Texas.

God's plans and God's timing are always astounding and unbelievable. God took my fear and anxiety over Tricia's departure and turned it into hope and joy over the potential for a new relationship and job for a person who has been a church volunteer and leader already for many years.

God also opened me to a new relationship with this new staff member, as our friendship grows and God works between us to continue showing His plans for our church.

So it has been a full week. But God is good. All the time. God is good - through death and resurrection in our lives as well as on the Cross, on Easter and the Sunday after Easter.

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