From The Pastor’s Heart

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December 2017

Holy Advent…Waiting…

And so the new church year begins on the first Sunday of December. We breathe in crisp cold air with each morning and listen to cranes flying and hooting overhead as they migrate to warmer regions. How do they know the way? Is it instinctual? Yes. Born of thousands of years of evolution, trust and need. Our Advent season is born from the hope of the ancient church; a hope for the return of Christ even as we celebrate Jesus’ birth. Advent honors the expectations Christians have for both events. We honor with listening, breathing, praying, watching.

Scriptures from the Common Lectionary afford us the chance to listen to the voices of the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist which summon God’s people to wait with expectation for the One who is on the way. We breathe in the passion by which our ancestors believe God was able to bring a peaceable kingdom to the earth through the Messiah, God’s anointed one. We pray that His way will lead to the dawn of justice and peace for those who place their trust in the Saving One. As we wait, we watch for signs of God’s hope, peace, love and joy. May they be in abundance now and with every season.

Our way leads from the wilderness, to Bethlehem and then to Egypt. It is the way of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. If we follow we won’t get lost, but we will be blessed. Follow with others around the globe who choose this time to honor a Holy Advent.

Come my Way, my Truth, my Life:

Such a Way, as give us breath: such a Trust, as ends all strife: Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:

Such a Light, as shows a feast: Such a Feast, as mends in length: Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:

Such a Joy, as none can move: Such a Love, as none can part: Such a Heart, as joys in love.

– – –  George Herbert, 1593-1633

Rejoice in this season of Christ’s coming.

Pastor David

 


September 2017

Check your color.

Dear Friends in Christ,

I offer you this personal story and an article from United Methodist Communications published August 15, 2017 just a few short days after the events of Charlottesville, VA in which a young woman Heather Heyer was killed and Deandre Harris a young African American man was brutally attacked by white supremacists at a rally in the heart of the city.  As I read articles, watch additional news coverage and seek answers from our leaders as to ways forward, I must pause also to contemplate the condition of my own heart and confess my ongoing sin and struggle with racism and white privilege.

It was sometime during my first year of seminary in Evanston, I was riding with my friend and classmate to get gas near Howard Street on the border between the suburb and the city. As we parked his car at the station and entered it to buy a snack and pay for gas, and then returned to the car, my friend reported to me that one of the attendants had followed him around the store, watching him around every corner. I said “Oh, that didn’t happen to me. Why would he do that to you?” “Check your color, David. Check your color.” And I haven’t stopped. To “check your color” means that I recognize the freedom I experience, the “unchecked box,” at any store, restaurant, event, bar, bank, gas station and other places including church where my skin color isn’t a means by which I am discriminated against in our society like it was for my friend and is for so many of our non-white fellow citizens.

I cannot disavow the white privilege of my existence nor my contribution to the social systems perpetrating racial injustice so very present in our country. United Methodist Bishop Karen Oliveto writes “If we are to effectively oppose and defuse the movements of white supremacy and nationalism, the starting point must be with our own collusion with racism. Until we do this hard work, we will keep in place the social fuel that will allow these movements to flourish.” The starting point is found at the beginning of each day. The starting point is to recognize God is able to help us in all things – including our need for confession and removal of sin.

As I am tempted to grow in my hopelessness that our country’s quest for racial equality will finally find its day in the sun, and as I find myself with increasing indifference towards our President and a broken administration, I pray for God’s blessing of increased faith in the American people to become united in voice and action to the essential values we hold. I pray for an even greater faith in our God who blesses us with wisdom and energy to commit to the higher way of love without regard to human classifications of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, ability, religion and country of origin or citizenship. I invite you to join me in increased faithfulness to the kingdom values of God.

Grace and peace,

Rev. David P. Aslesen


August 2017

Pictures & Parables

Dear friends in Christ,
Worship in late July and throughout the month of August is utilizing the stories of Jesus known as parables to help us to do three things: 1) discover & tell our own stories of faith, 2) listen more attentively to the stories of faith of other people and 3) use our shared stories to reveal & build the kingdom of God’s heaven on earth. Story is telling in words and showing in action our own personal truths. In a faith context such as
church, the collected stories reveal God found in our unique hearts and experiences.
Sometimes our words need images. I like children’s literature for the simple stories but more often for the wonderful illustrations that accompany and in some cases outshine the text. Sometimes preaching needs images too, that is why the work of Vincent Van Gogh has been selected for our parables series. You will find some of his images here and on display in the sanctuary. A snippet of a larger article by Kathleen Powers Erickson is found below which gives a little background as to Van Gogh’s faith story. I’d be happy to share the article in its entirety with you; just send an email or call. Your story of faith is a great gift to you. I invite you to pray over how it can tell a truth that would bless the world with more goodness, wisdom, grace and love, even give us a challenge to listen better to the hard, difficult and tough portions of your journey. Please know your precious story is worthy to be heard and if you’d like to gift it to me, I’d be happy to join you in conversation over a meal, coffee or time together soon. From Preaching to Painting: Van Gogh’s Religious Zeal by Kathleen Powers Erickson:

He has sent me to preach the Gospel to the poor, declared Vincent van Gogh to his brother, Theo, in a letter dated 1876. For the next three years van Gogh singlemindedly pursued his calling to the ministry, first as a student of theology and then as a missionary to the coal miners in the Belgian Borinage. Deeply moved by the poverty surrounding him, van Gogh gave all his possessions, including most of his clothing, to the miners. An inspector of the Evangelization Council came to the conclusion that the missionary’s excess de zele bordered on the scandalous, and he reported van Gogh’s behavior to church authorities. Although van Gogh was successful in his ministry, the hierarchy of the Dutch Reformed Church rejected him, and at the end of 1879 he left the church, embittered and impoverished. Van Gogh remained in the Borinage after the church withdrew its support, and he began his artistic career by making drawings of the simple life of the Belgian peasants. He described this as a kind of conversion experience: “Even in that deep misery I felt my energy revive, and I said to myself, in spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I had forsaken in my discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing. From that moment everything has seemed transformed for me.” Although most of van Gogh’s biographers view this transition as a rejection of religion, in fact art rather than preaching became van Gogh’s chief form of religious expression. His faith in God and eternity as well as his respect forunadorned piety and the word of God remained firm.

Grace and peace,
Rev. David P. Aslesen


For all that is “yes.”

July 2017

Dear friends in Christ,

CBS Sports commentator Matt Snyder’s June 2 headline read: “A closer look at what has really been wrong with the Cubs so far this season: A World Series hangover? Was last year a fluke? Are there personnel issues?” The Cubs are failing to inspire us in the same way they did in July of 2016 when there was a great deal of hope that “this would be the year!” And we know how that turned out. This year doesn’t look so good. Have hope you say? I say, “It’s like déjà vu all over again” 107 times again. (Thank you, Yogi.)

United Methodist’s have a similar annual appeal in the summer months: will we get our pastor back? My answer is for this year is “Yes!” Upon the conclusion of this year’s session of the Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church (June 7, 2017), it was announced that I would be returning to First UMC as pastor – for at least one more year. Why only one year? In the UMC, pastors of local congregations are under an appointive or itinerant system of placement as administrated by the resident bishop of the conference. The appointment can be understood as an assignment for one year which is particular to the UMC. If you want an in-depth discussion on this system (or are in need of pastoral care for insomnia), I’d be happy to engage you in conversation.

I trust that as we move into my new appointive year (July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018), we might continue to discern the needs of our congregation, the best methods and practices for ministry for meeting those needs, development of goals that can stretch and challenge us in good ways, and new ways we can extend the ministries of the church out and into the communities in which live and serve. I pray this will be a fruitful year for me and for you as we are engaged in more opportunities for growth, the sharing of joy and further development of our mission & ministry action plan goals. As a member or friend of this congregation, I encourage you to let me know what your needs and expectations and where you see yourself in ministry.

In the meantime, may our faith in Jesus Christ be tuned to the many needs and localized ways we can assist one another, our neighbors and God’s earth. In particular at the start of this new appointment year, my faith steers me to see the ongoing Syrian civil war, our continued military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, the people of South Sudan many thousands of which live in refugee camps in neighboring nations, cities and civilians victimized by terrorism, lgbtq sisters and brothers in Orlando and elsewhere seeking safe community, children and youth gunned down in our Chicago streets and our own suburban communities where economic inequalities and race/culture/religious diversity continue to grow. We have challenging and holy work to do – through our prayers, advocacy and engagement – in this appointment year that is before us – as congregation and pastor alike.

May God bless all that is before us, as the church addresses these and many issues of faithfulness in the year ahead. For all that is “yes,” may God be praised!

Grace and peace,

Rev. David P. Aslesen


Thank you for your service.

June 2017

Dear friends in Christ,

It’s not every church that gets to celebrate so much that is so good. In April and May we were able to baptize two infants, receive five persons as members and confirm seven youth. We launched a 100-year restoration project that honors the history of our building and anticipates a bright future. We rejoiced together in youth leading in worship and 8th grade, high school and college graduations. Newborn grandchildren, new grandparents and the blessing of families within the church provided moments of delight and enrichment to our life together. I give thanks to God for all God is doing within our congregation. I invite you to offer your gratitude to God for the blessings you have experienced.

As the end of May approaches and we gather for Memorial Day observances, we as citizens of this country are called to pause and give honor to our servicemen and women and especially those who have died in the securing of the freedoms we enjoy. May our thankfulness give rise to support to those soldiers who are stationed abroad and those who have come home with the physical and emotional scars associated with their service. I give thanks to Pastor Bob Campbell for his therapeutic work assisting our veterans. When away from our congregation, Pastor Bob serves as the Director of the Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program (RRTP) for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah, Wisconsin, where treatment is offered for PTSD and Substance Abuse. Please keep Bob, his work and our veterans in your prayers.

While our country finds itself in a less than productive season of leadership (oh, what words should describe our presidential administration, I am at loss), we as people of faith can contribute and must share what is good, helpful and just. I tire of complaining about the present state of politics and an administration that I find incredibly baffling and increasingly harmful. So I am striving to educate and engage myself further on issues important not just to me but on those of importance to my neighbor who may or may not think like me or come from the same context of living, work or culture as I do. As I do these things, I seek the resources of the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church to help me articulate my beliefs and the role of the church in addressing the many ills within our society and world. These principles serve to share faith and knowledge of science, culture, history and future hopes on several different issues. This summer, two particular issues will provide our congregation with a chance to increase our knowledge of issues affecting our country and world: 1) water and environmental justice and 2) sanctuary city & church movement which is increasing each day as more of our neighbors are threatened with detention and deportation. Look inside our newsletter for more information on these timely studies. You can find copies of The Social Principles in the Parlor bookcase at church. Let us learn together so that we may be knowledgeable, engaged and active Christians in the world.

Be blessed in the start of summer and know that the church shares in the delights of faith, family and fun adventures with you!

Grace and peace,

Rev. David P. Aslesen