From the Pastor's Desk ...
"Movement of The Holy Spirit"
By Pastor Ben Siebert
This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 thesis regarding the church to the Wittenberg door (1517-2017). While it is good to celebrate our heritage, it is also right to heed the Holy Spirit's ever reforming movement in the present.
A Holy Spirit text I often return to is Acts 10:1-11:18. A centurion named Cornelius (a Gentile) is called by an angel of God to send for Peter (a Jew), while at the same time Peter has a vision of a sheet falling from heaven with unclean animals on it. A voice calls "Get up, Peter; kill and eat," but Peter refuses out of faithfulness. The voice persists, challenging Peter's understanding of God and scripture: "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." (Acts 10:13-14; 10:15. An example of law regarding clean and unclean animals can be found in Leviticus 11.)
Peter, still confused, is summoned by Cornelius' servants. As Peter arrives, he realizes the vision was not about food alone, but also about who had been seen as unclean people. As Peter shares the story of Christ, he sees the Holy Spirit at work in the Gentiles, blessed by the Spirit even while participating in unclean eating and other practices considered an abomination. When Peter testifies to the church in Jerusalem how he had seen the movement of the Spirit in his vision and experience with the Gentiles, some refuse Peter's understanding while others celebrate the movement of the Spirit. Struggles in affirming Gentiles as equal and valid members of the church continued throughout the New Testament.
This text can be both terrifying and liberating. In the time of the Reformation fear came bubbling forth from the church as Luther followed the calling of God in dynamic reform. In recent years this same fear bubbled forth as the church rightly recognized the Spirit's longstanding blessing and movement amongst all types of sexual orientation and identity. Questions arise from such a text: How are we to know what is faithful? How do we discern the voice of God? Why would God do something different than past scriptural calling? In the midst of such questions and fear, the church has -- we have -- a temptation to resist, scared of being unfaithful while ignoring the Spirit that is the source of all faithfulness.
And yet, as we hear a calling in this same scripture to follow the Holy Spirit into unfamiliar experiences, we witness Christ crucified and risen in various lives and cultures and situations -- even our own. As Christians, we recognize that justice, grace, and mercy belong to God, and we are to follow wherever God will lead us. To follow God was the calling of the Israelites in the desert, the calling of the disciples in the life of Jesus, and the calling of the church present in the movement of the Holy Spirit.
As we celebrate our Reformation heritage, let us also lift up our own calling as disciples bound to the movement of the Holy Spirit, honoring whatever and whoever it calls holy. Should the Spirit call us to reclaim our heritage, let us do so with courage. Should the Spirit call us into unfamiliar experiences, let us also go with courage, recognizing the authority of the Spirit in the lives of Christian disciples and the promise of the Spirit to guide us along the way.
So tell me, Trinity: Where do we see the movement of the Holy Spirit these days, and where are we being summoned into greater faithfulness?
"Let Camp Nurture Your Faith"
By Pastor Ben Siebert
It's Camp Season! All-Saints Confirmation Camp, a cooperative endeavor with Lutheran congregations from a variety of places throughout the Lower Susquehanna Synod kicked off way back the week of June 11th through 16th. Several of our younger members and families have been/will be participating in camp this year at Nawakwa and elsewhere throughout the summer in a variety of activities and foci. While each experience of camp is different, one of the overwhelming themes that I hear from our children and youth is one of joy, new experiences, and blooming confidence nurtured in a Christian setting.
Camp is a unique experience, one that I am coming into relationship with more fully as an adult. Now, it's time for a confession: I did not go to church camp as a child. While I had plenty of experience with mission trips and band camps and youth group trips, I simply did not attend church camp. It wasn't really because I was afraid of it or was against it, it was more that I did not understand it. I grew up spending a lot of time outside, so when camp was pitched as a time for me to spend days on end out in nature with friends and fellow Christians, I though "I already do that now!"
I didn't, though. Yes I was outside, and yes I was with friends and fellow Christians, but camp is infinitely more than this. Rev. Shawn Berkebile, a Lutheran pastor and colleague of mine serving in Abbottstown, has best given to me language to what camp is. He once told me that camp is an embodied vision of what life as a Christian can look like. Camp stands as a counterweight to the culture so many of us question yet dwell in every day. Camp teaches things about faith not by preaching them for 20 minutes at a time, but living them out.
Camp proclaims that the body of Christ is not only better together than alone, but is by its very definition the tying together of transitional people who do not know one another at first. Camp proclaims that the body of Christ flourishes when it is challenged with new experiences, from high ropes courses to nature exploration to new endeavors in artistic expression, not for the sake of perfection but for the sake of common growth. Camp proclaims that the work of the body, from caring for cabins to daily chores, should be shared by the body, done joyfully and accepted graciously. Camp proclaims that fear and homesickness are real and powerful, countered not in our dwelling in these feelings and moments but rather by our embracing the people and experiences in front of us. Camp proclaims that the songs we sing together change over time, and this change is both bittersweet and life-giving. Camp proclaims that each of us will find ourselves vulnerable and not our best in sudden moments of our lives, and camp proclaims that this vulnerability and weakness is best met with graciousness and mercy from friend and stranger. Camp proclaims that God is certainly speaking to us in worship, in devotions, in games, in work, in new relationships and familiar friends.
Does life always look like camp? Of course not. There are work and chores simply not found in typical camp life. Yet, can/does camp shape how we live our everyday lives? Without a doubt.
As our children and youth experience camp this summer, pray for them. As they return, watch them. Watch them as they change and grow, and remember past camp experiences if you've been blessed to have them. May God continue to bless all the places that give us new understanding of what it looks like to be the body of Christ.
"We Are Trinity"
By Pastor Ben Siebert
What do you love about Trinity? What first brought you to Trinity? What keeps you coming back to Trinity? What is our call together as a community of believers? As we focus this month once again on stewardship, it is important to open up a piece of the conversation that we often ignore, namely why we care for our congregation. I am not claiming that the conversation of our call to care for and share the gifts of time, talent, and treasure is unimportant; in fact, I find it foundational. Yet, so is this conversation, the subject of what keeps us coming back and what our calling is as a congregation.
So, as you read this, take a few moments to consider what keeps you coming back to, or in relationship with, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Arendtsville, along with why you believe Trinity exists at all:
From my own vantage point, I see many experiences that draw people to our community of believers (I certainly do not claim to see all experiences, and even believe that there are many more experiences that I will never see of Trinity than ones that I will). Some of these experiences are obvious, like the ways that we mark the gifts of life. Hundreds of different faces are drawn each year into our community to celebrate new life and baptism, to celebrate God's self-sacrificial gift of life in First Communion, to celebrate the love of God that graces us in love of one another in weddings, and the bittersweet threshold of life everlasting in funerals. These faces are often not ones that I see every week, but instead faces that rely on Trinity as a lighthouse, always proclaiming the gospel in a way that anchors the most life-giving yet trying moments of life.
Some of these experiences are less obvious, like the individuals that dwell with our community but a few times a year. Each of these individual's experience with our community and with God is unique, yet all have witnessed the impact of faith on the life of the believer, whether personally or in the life of the one(s) who draw(s) them in. For better or for worse, these individuals at the very least might see that belief in Christ leads people into togetherness even when it is difficult, into grace and mercy even when we desire justice, into love and service to our neighbor even when it is outside our reflexive behavior.
Most obvious to me is the community that gathers here weekly in our Sunday assemblies and throughout the week in our cooperative efforts. These people come once again for a variety of reasons, but one that I often summarize in the words of a familiar hymn. We proclaim the gospel of Christ "for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest." (Katherine Hankey, "I Love to Tell the Story in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. #661. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006.) This, along with a combination of all of the above, is the reason that keeps me coming back. I need to hear the gospel, I need to hear God's grace.
What you thought of above, and these various, non-exhaustive understandings of what brings others to Trinity combine into an understanding of what we are in the community of Arendtsville and Upper Adams County. It also leads us into the second question posed at the beginning: Why does Trinity exist?
These two questions do not have the same answer, but they are related. I do believe that Trinity exists for the sake of marking the moments of life with professions of faith, to welcome in wandering people of life's journey for a moment's exploration of faith, to weekly (at least) proclaim the gospel of Christ to those who have made it their life's foundation. Yet, I believe we are not strictly people of worship services. Trinity exists as a community to explore. We exist to explore scripture together in response to seasons of life. We exist to learn the faith from generations before us, and pass the faith to generations after us. We exist to be the embodied Christ in our area, to become hands and feet for the will of Christ in the communities throughout Adams County.
Both what keeps us coming back to Trinity and why Trinity exists at all are in part what and why we have been called by God to be stewards in this world. In this season of our lives, we are Trinity. We are the ones who in the sharing of gifts and worship together God uses to proclaim the gospel in our unique way to the community and the world. We are stewards of these experiences, of one another's need for the good news of God in Christ Jesus, and of the future of our congregation.
As we focus on our stewardship in this half-way mark in the year, consider what God is calling you to be a steward of in this life together as Trinity. Thanks be to God for the good gifts that have been, currently are being, and will be shared!
(written: June 2017)
"Have Faith in Our Creator"
By Pastor Ben Siebert
The book of Ecclesiastes has fascinated me in this current season of my life, and I find surprising connections in the month of May. May is full of the smell of tilled soil and slowly blooming and sprouting trees and seeds. This smell brings lightness to my spirit. There is a hope associated with this smell, sweet with possibility. While there may be times of drought and times of flood, there also may be times of bumper crops and joyful surprises. As this smell rises from the earth no one knows what will happen, for better or worse, yet there is hope in my heart nonetheless.
I have noticed in reflection and conversation that my view and at times the view of others concerning the state of the world often struggle to hold this same hope. While there is both joy and pain in the world, it seems like the pain often overshadows the joy. The world at times seems backward, messed up, and so caked in layers of repetitive history that the whole thing seems beyond repair. So while my faith tells me to participate in God's "kingdom come and God's will be done," part of me remembers this history and fails to smell the sweet smell of hope.
The "Teacher" of Ecclesiastes found a similar reality in a quest to know wisdom. He (or she) saw caked layers of meaninglessness and vanity in the reality of the world:
Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches
to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance
happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster.
Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so
mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls
upon them. (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12)
Long before our time, the Teacher realized that the world had been baking in caked layers of mess for generations. Early in the Teacher's work, the Teacher briefly considered the possibility that the world simply needed to return to a time of former glory. Quite often, I hear this as the appropriate course of action prescribed for today. As the Teacher reflected, though, the understanding came that it was fruitless to say "'Why were the former days better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that [we] ask this." (Ecclesiastes 7:10) The world has always been this way, and wishing for a time of former glory is simply wishing for the days before we were aware of our surroundings.
The Teacher saw this as bleak, and quite frankly, so do I at times. What is the purpose of seeking change for a humanity that has been stained by injustice and lived as a mess for generations beyond measure? What is the purpose of faithfully seeking justice for the oppressed and food for the hungry and healing for the sick and solidarity for the poor in a humanity that resists these things? If you've ever read Ecclesiastes, you may remember the Teacher's first attempt to answer this bleak outlook on life with meaning: "There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil." (Ecclesiastes 2:24) While this sounds like fun, this suggestion seems shallow in the understanding of God's bend towards justice. Thankfully, the Teacher's answer does not end in this simplicity, and neither should ours. With a nod toward nuance and specificity required in life, the Teacher capstones the quest for wisdom by naming the central purpose of our toil: "Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone." (Ecclesiastes 12:13) We fear and love God, and in that central focus we are graced to eat, drink, and find pleasure in our duty and joy.
Not knowing why the world is the way it is, we move toward its Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. We have faith that just as God has not abandoned a humanity with a propensity toward injustice, God would keep hearing the cries of those in need. We have faith that the God who created life in a formless, shapeless void would bring life out of a formless, shapeless mess. We have faith that the God who created the sweet smell of hope drifting through the air each May would also create the sweet smell of hope year round.
We cannot come to know the meaning of the chaos in the world, but we can seek to know the Creator and the good Creation that comes out of it.
(written: May 2017)
"Remember the Foundation of Your Baptism"
By Pastor Ben Siebert
Over the course of our Lenten journey, Trinity has been focusing each Sunday on the foundational building blocks of our baptismal identities. The Lectionary for Year A focuses on these things rather overtly, beginning on the First Sunday of Lent with a warning. We are to be aware of ourselves and our surroundings during this journey, for temptation is plentiful in our baptismal lives as brothers and sisters of the Christ who was tempted after 40 days in the desert. (Matthew 4:1-11) The Second Sunday followed with a conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus where we were reminded that our baptism and the waters of baptism for the whole world are rooted not in God's vengeance, but in God's love for us. (John 3:1-17) The Third Sunday of Lent we remembered just how far the life giving waters of God flow as Jesus revealed these things to the Samaritan woman at the well. (John 4:5-42) On the Fourth Sunday of Lent our lives were lifted up to the light-truth of Jesus, showing both the things in our hearts that we may rather hide from as well as the very moments of God's grace. (John 9:1-41) Finally, we met Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus in the midst of Thomas and Martha's faithfulness, witnessing the resurrection and the life in a way that still confounds us on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. (John 11:1-45)
As any journey might bring, we may find ourselves at this point ready for Lent to be over, ready for Easter, and ultimately ready for rest. Yet, like the Israelites standing on the edge of the Promised Land, I believe it is important for us to remember the journey of our immediate past and the God who led us through.
May you know that there is no place in life you will ever find yourself where these building blocks cannot follow. There is no person you will ever become where these building blocks do not apply. For you, there will always be God's love. For you, there will always be the waters of baptism and the food of Jesus. For you there will always be the light of Jesus, there will always be resurrection and life. There will also always be temptation, but with the love of God we boldly live life in joyful service to God and neighbor.
As we stand on the banks of Easter and Spring and everything else 2017 might have in store, remember the foundation of your baptism. If you should ever feel yourself back wandering in the desert, remember your baptism, and know that God's promises to you never break. If this is not enough, wander your way back to Trinity or any other place where the Gospel is purely preached and sacraments rightly administered, whether it has been a week or a lifetime since we saw you last. It is my prayer that God will continue to call us and enable us to proclaim the gospel each Sunday. Here, together, we will point you each week to God, and to the baptismal promises of love, of living water and food, of light, and of resurrection and life in the midst of the things that cause us to wander.
Thanks be to God for the waters of baptism that cleanse and claim us all.
(written: April 2017)
"Resist Evil and Show God's Love"
By Pastor Ben Siebert
"As disciples of Jesus, we are called to discipline that contends against evil and resists whatever leads us away from love of God and neighbor."
These seemingly unambiguous words come from the "Invitation to Lent" portion of the order for Ash Wednesday worship found in our current hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship (the red book in our pews). In this statement, we may find a wide berth of understanding of what it means to engage in this time of baptismal preparation and remembrance.
Lent has historical roots in discipline of many types, from prescribed orders for fasting and prayer throughout, to the practice of refraining from self-identified experiences, to intentional gathering and study throughout the week. In our more modern experiences it is possible for these disciplines to seem somber and dreary with a focus on self, evil, and sin, out of touch with the loving God we emphasize throughout the year. We see signs of this loving God at the end of this invitation statement, yet the statement acknowledges this love and this God to seem far off at times.
I used to resist Lent, wondering why the church would choose to focus on sin and evil as a preparation for Easter, as if living throughout the rest of the year somehow failed to grasp the great amounts of sin and evil in our world. Is the news not enough to highlight evil? Is the death of friends and loved ones not enough to wrench the heart?
As Lent has been repeated over the course of my life, though, I have realized increasingly that the focus on sin and evil is not a backwards, sadistic ritual in the church carried over from monks in dungeons of bygone days. Rather, Lent focuses on sin and evil to contend against sin and evil, anything that leads us away from love of God and neighbor.
Martin Luther in his Small Catechism explanations to the Ten Commandments, the foundational disciplines of God's people, begins each explanation the same way: "We are to fear and love God ..."
Lent is a call to keep our eyes open so that we might be aware of the things and events of our hands and this world that keep us from the love of God and neighbor. The Ten Commandments are the foundation of this understanding, for as we discipline our practice in these ways, we are drawn to the fear and love of God and neighbor. Lent furthers this discipline for the same reasons.
Last month, I asked you to consider what Lenten practice you would engage in, trusting in the midst of the process that God would provide the water of life. As Lent begins, I ask you to open your eyes throughout your practice. See vividly the evil in the world. Hear clearly your call to be as Christ to your neighbor. Answer truthfully what Christ would have us do. Live boldly into that action.
(written: March 2017)
"Drink Deeply the Water of Life"
By Pastor Ben Siebert
Take some time right now and go find a glass of water. Seriously. Go get a glass of water, and bring it back. I'll wait right here!
Now, sip just a drop from the glass. Feel it as your mouth absorbs it even before you can swallow.
Wait about a minute (count to sixty if you have no clock).
Sip another drop from the glass. Feel it as it is absorbed. Wait another minute.
Sip a third time from the glass. Feel it. Wait.
I find Lent to be an overwhelmingly gift-filled time of year. It all begins with the common practice of "giving something up" or fasting during Lent. Many of us pick something that we knowingly recognize as something that occupies too much of our lives. Some fast from sweets, others give up their morning cup of coffee. Last year, my wife Kristin and I fasted from Facebook, Netflix, and any other media experience we usually use to distract ourselves.
When the act of giving something up ends here, it can indeed be rewarding by simply encountering a daily routine and finding new space in our time, our reflexes, or even our wallets. Yet, the act of giving something up or fasting during Lent was originally intended to help turn us specifically towards God. Some individuals indeed find God in the newly open space of their lives, yet others (like me) need just as much to add a devotional practice after giving up something.
When we take time to dwell with God, we can often be surprised by the fullness of the experience.
Take some time right now to think about what you may like to give up or fast from during Lent. Perhaps this is various forms of entertainment, specific foods, or even parts of our vocabulary. Also take some time to consider what you want to do during Lent. Perhaps you would like to pray daily (if you have problems with this, I suggest finding a good daily prayer book!), work through a book of the Bible, give weekly to a local charity or call a loved one each day of Lent. Whatever you pick, write it down somewhere.
Now, drink the whole glass of water that remains.
Many of us go through life with drops of living water greeting us on Sunday morning. While this sustains us, it is different than drinking in God's presence deeply and daily. Though every spiritual practice can be explored outside of Lent, many of us focus in on this season. As we take time and plan our actions in advance, we free ourselves up to experience more fully what God will be doing.
It is a vastly different experience to drink drop by drop rather than deeply and fully.
It is my prayer that as we go through our Lenten practices this year, we may drink deeply from the water of life and be surprised by fullness of the experience.
(written: February 2017)
"Thank The Lord! Alleluia!"
By Pastor Ben Siebert
A year ago, on a particularly muggy morning, afternoon, and evening, my brother and I loaded up all of my stuff from my apartment in Philadelphia and hauled it all down to Arendtsville. Upon arrival, we began unloading a truck full of what we just got done loading, greeted by bread, jam, eggs, and bacon on the kitchen counter and an incredible gift basket from the congregation. Richard Bachman, council president at the time, stopped in to see how we were doing. Though I was tired, I could tell that a whole congregation of folk I had yet to sit down and talk with was trying to make me feel welcome. Lacking sleep but pumping adrenaline, I dropped my brother off the next day for his flight back home, and returned to Arendtsville ~ briefly alone and somewhat scared.
And then, you did what you always do. You invited me, like you invite one another, into your homes and lives and worship and community. You pointed me towards people to visit, towards things to be involved in. You gracefully helped me understand the worship practices of our congregation, you showed me traditions and yet welcomed my own thoughts into the conversation. Surrounding area pastors reached out to show me the town and people and proverbial ropes, and invited me into their circles and cooperative work too (Susan McCarthy has done this to an incredible degree, one that I cherish more than I could ever begin to describe). Beyond myself, you've invited other families to worship and What's Cookin' and Vacation Bible School and into your homes. Beyond our building, you have invited other congregations and neighbors into your places of work and life, cultivating a culture of good news and hope that feels too great and too wonderful for someone such as myself to ever be in communion with.
There has been much said about the excitement and energy surrounding the congregation and its youth members and cooperative ministry and our near and far neighbors. I cannot say it enough: this energy does not come from me. Rather, I am energized by it! When I have said this to various members of our congregation, though, they have remarked that it does not come from them either!
But we know where good things come from, don't we?
The mystery of our lives is that for some reason, a too great and too wonderful God has come to dwell with us. The Spirit has come to bring us closer to one another and to our neighbor. The Son has gifted us with joy which we readily share, with community in which we readily lean on one another, with stories of struggle and joy that blossom in one another the very image of Christ from depths of our lives. I don't know why God has blessed us with such gifts. I do know that the more we share these gifts, the more this excitement grows.
We've received good gifts. Gifts of community, of cooperation, of sharing life and of bearing one another's needs. I believe that our task is simple in concept and complex in process: care for these gifts we've been given, so that everyone ~ known and unknown ~ might benefit from them.
In our liturgy, there is an option for a song of thanksgiving after Communion. I've been singing this little song to myself this whole year, and want to share with you what I believe expresses both our shared excitement and calling from God.
"Thank the Lord and sing God's praise!
Tell everyone what God has done!
Let all who seek the Lord rejoice and bear his holy name.
He recalls his promises and leads his people forth in joy with shouts of thanksgiving.
Alleluia indeed! I thank God that I've been called here, and for the gifts we share together.
Pastor Ben Siebert
(written: June 2015)
About Pastor Siebert ...
Pastor Siebert began his pastoral ministry with Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Arendtsville, on Sunday, June 15, 2014.
He is from Celina, Ohio, and spent his youth on his family's farm in Celina, which is in northwest Ohio farm country. At the age of 12, he felt that he wanted to be a pastor, a calling which developed over time while coexisting well with his continued love of farm life. Following high school, he attended Bluffton University, and in 2010, he received his Bachelors of Arts degree with honors from Bluffton with a major in psychology and a minor in Biblical studies. After college, Pastor Siebert continued his studies at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, where he focused more intensely on the connection of Biblical, pastoral, and theological training and practical efforts in congregational ministry. On May 20, 2014, he graduated with honors from the seminary in Philadelphia with a Masters of Divinity degree and also received the senior Paul J. Hoh/Elizabeth Reed Award.
Pastor Siebert was ordained on June 6, 2014, during the ELCA Lower Susquehanna Synod Assembly at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. He was officially installed as Trinity's new pastor on July 12, 2014.