Pastoral Letter from Pastor Hoffman on 9/1/2020

Pastor Hoffman’s Sermon August 30, 2020

As we begin fall, we continue to live into team ministry for this new season. Last week a letter was sent to BLC Members. Pastor Hoffman will be taking vacation through September 30 and then step into a role of resource pastor beginning in October. Pastor Amy will continue to serve full time in the role of lead pastor. In addition, Bethany Trippi will continue to serve as Youth Ministry Coordinator with a focus on LYO and Confirmation-age youth.

As we live into God’s promised future, we are taking this one season at a time. Leadership will meet in early December to make plans for January and beyond. Click here to read Pastor Hoffman’s letter to the congregation.

Weekly STAR Reflection 8/23/2020

Reflection from Pastor Hoffman:

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be the body of Christ lately, when we have been disembodied for six months. For half of a year, we have gathered only in the virtual world. We have been images on a screen to one another, not flesh and blood, three-dimensional people gathered into one.  (Until last week, that is, when we held our first in-person gathering – an outdoor service of prayer and reflection. Read more about upcoming opportunities in this Star!)

Now, I should state clearly: we are no less the body of Christ if or when we can’t be physically together. That’s the mystery of our faith! In baptism, we are joined with Christ and with one another – across time and space and pandemic protocols and any other barrier we can imagine.

At the same time, it matters that we can’t gather physically. Our experience of being the body of Christ has changed. This week in worship, we hear some familiar verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans: For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. (Romans 12:4-8)

This pandemic has cut us off from sharing these gifts with one another in ways we once did. As households hunker down, many have had to take on functions that were previously fulfilled by other members of the body. Sometimes, that meant doing things we didn’t feel particularly gifted to do. (Ask any parent how gifted they were at teaching their own children from home last Spring…) Sometimes, that meant feeling the pain of missing the gifts we depend on from others – a compassionate embrace, perhaps, or a word of cheerful encouragement.

As we move in to yet another season of life during a pandemic, I find myself wondering: what gifts are laying idle among the body of Christ in our midst? What gifts are being awakened?

We might find giftedness in ourselves that we didn’t know was there. We might find new ways to share our gifts – through technology or sheer creativity – so we don’t feel quite so disembodied as the body of Christ in this pandemic season.

Whatever else we do, I give thanks for Paul’s reminder that we don’t go it alone. We are indeed “members one of another.” We belong to each other. May God grant us the grace and courage to live as though it’s so.

~ Pastor H.


Weekly STAR Reflection 8-16-2020

Reflection from Pastor Hoffman:

The voice of persistence.  The voice who demands attention.  The voice who will not be silenced.  The voice who will not compromise or settle.

The airwaves are filled with voices like this. Voices that are hailed as leaders, change-makers, even prophets – at least when we agree with them.  Voices that are considered difficult, outliers, even troublemakers when we don’t.

Scripture is also filled voices like this.  The voice of God is persistent – intent on loving God’s people no matter how many times we lose our way.  The voice of God demands attention – and gets it, whether through a burning bush, a swarm of locusts, or simply a still small voice.  The voice of God will not be silenced – even by death on a cross.  The voice of God will not compromise or settle for anything less than a world in which all people – and all of creation – is treated as God’s beloved.

In this week’s gospel, we hear this voice coming from a Canaanite woman talking to Jesus himself. Scholars debate the reason for this exchange.  Why did Jesus need to be urged and convinced to heal this woman’s daughter? I am compelled by the idea that Jesus himself was so fully human that even he needed to hear God’s voice through her, calling him back to his purpose. Jesus listened to the voice.  Do we?

There are so many persistent voices in our world right now, demanding our attention, refusing to be silenced, unwilling to compromise. They are not all the voice of God, but they can distract us, leaving us so frustrated and annoyed that we stop listening and don’t hear God’s voice at all.  But God is still speaking, calling us back to our purpose of sharing and showing God’s love with the world.

May God open our ears to the voices that matter, granting us the courage to be the voice of persistence when needed, to amplify the voices of those whose needs are silenced, and to settle for nothing less than a world where all are loved as God intended.

 ~ Pastor H.

Weekly STAR Reflection 7/26/2020

Reflection from Pastor Hoffman:

This week’s Scripture includes the foundation of the Christian life. (Mark 12:28-31) One of the scribes asks Jesus: Which commandment is the greatest?  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Most of us know these commandments.  When asked, we can easily respond that this is what Jesus tells us to do: love God and love others.  But hearing these commandments this time, in the context of Compassion Camp and with our focus this week on having compassion for ourselves, I’m struck by this truth.  We can’t love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength if we don’t take care of ourselves in body, mind and spirit.  And we can’t love our neighbors well if we don’t love ourselves well.  Note: Jesus did not just say, “love your neighbor.” He instructed us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Loving ourselves goes deeper than the self-care packaged as a bubble bath or a round of golf.  Loving ourselves begins with treating ourselves with the same compassion Jesus calls us to share with others.  Compassion looks like being gentle and kind.  Compassion looks like noticing where there’s hurt and helping to heal that hurt.  Compassion looks like being brave and courageous for the sake of love.

Do you treat yourself with compassion?  Do you speak to yourself with kindness – or is your head filled with critical self-talk and judgment?  Do you pay attention to your body’s needs – taking care of it when you’re sick or run down, eating well and exercising, or do you often run on empty?  Do you have the courage to prioritize your needs, even when it feels risky to do so?

We love, because God first loved us.  When we cultivate compassion – not just for others, not just out there in the world, but for ourselves, we experience – in body, mind and spirit – the depth and height and breadth of God’s love for us.  How will you cultivate compassion for yourself this week?

 ~ Pastor H.

P.S. If you haven’t signed up for Compassion Camp, it’s not too late!  I’ll send you the login for the Google classroom where you’ll find resources to cultivate compassion.  Try yoga movement!  Or a nightly devotion through the ancient practice of Examen.

Preparing for Worship: 7/19/2020

When you hear the word “compassion,” what comes to mind?

I think of compassion in terms of kindness, gentleness, care, concern…I don’t usually think of compassion in terms of bravery.  But that’s exactly what this week’s focus on Cultivating Compassion invites us to consider: Compassion helps us be brave.

I’ve heard it said that becoming a parent means letting your heart walk around outside your body. But I don’t think that description is just for parents.  I think it’s true of anyone who cultivates compassion.  Compassion means actually being willing to let our hearts loose in the world to feel someone else’s pain, to let the hurt and sadness and fear and struggle of others touch our hearts.

Cultivating compassion means seeing another’s hurt and feeling another’s hurt. But when we feel another’s pain, we become motivated to do whatever we can to ease their pain – even if that means doing what is otherwise scary, or risky, or dangerous.  That’s how compassion helps us be brave.

Now “brave” is not a word that we hear much about in the Bible.  (It’s true – I actually looked it up.  The word “brave” only appears about two dozen times, and all but three of those instances are in reference to the Maccabean revolt.  Being brave is associated with war and conflict.) Yet the Bible is full of stories of brave people – people who have acted with courage, faced their fears, or put themselves in danger because of their faith.

This week, we hear the story of four men who carry their friend to see Jesus (Mark 2:1-12). When they can’t get through the crowds of people, they lower their friend through the roof to be healed.  It’s a story that reminds us that being brave isn’t reserved for those on the frontlines.  Being brave looks like friends who show up and find a way to help us get what we need, even if it means pushing through crowds and making a hole in a roof of a house that isn’t ours.  Being brave looks like acknowledging that we need help and accepting it when its offered, as the man who was brought to Jesus did.  Being brave looks like being open to having our minds changed, as I pray happened to the scribes who watched this scene unfold.

Being brave means not knowing exactly how we will be moved to act when we cultivate compassion…and doing it anyway, always and only with the help of God!

~ Pastor H.

PS – It’s not too late to sign up for Compassion Camp!  Send me an email and I’ll give you access to the site where you can download videos and activities and conversation starters that you can do at your convenience with others in your household to cultivate compassion. Read the full details in the STAR!

Weekly STAR Reflection 7-5-2020

This is the final week of our series on the book of Acts, learning what it looks like to be a church without walls. The early church shows that following Jesus takes us to places we might not otherwise go – both physically, as God’s people set out to distant lands to share the good news, and metaphorically, as ideologies and cultural practices are challenged.

We may be left feeling that following Jesus happens in the big and momentous occasions – that blinding light on the road to Damascus, the dramatic acts of healing, being imprisoned for the faith.  But the reality is that most of our lives are spent in much more mundane ways.  (This week’s reading from Acts even reminds us that Paul himself worked for a living, making tents.)

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” says Annie Dillard. Paying attention to how we spend our days, then, is an essential part of the life of faith.

What is helping you pay attention these days?

I have been reading Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren.  It’s a book about paying attention to our daily habits and patterns as a way of worship, a way of tuning into God’s presence and grace and practicing our faith in our everyday lives.  (This book also gave shape to the reflection I shared each week for Wednesday Evening Prayer throughout the last month.) At a time when we can’t gather as we’d like and many of our usual ways of practicing our faith have had to shift in recent months, I’ve appreciated the reminder that God is not contained by the four walls of church, and neither is our worship. Every moment of every day presents an opportunity for worship – whether through confession, praise, prayer or blessing.

I also hope that our formal (virtual) worship gives us the opportunity to reflect more deeply on what gives shape to our lives.  Starting next week, we’re beginning a new series on Cultivating Compassion – it will give shape to Sunday morning worship, as well as opportunities for people of all ages to engage the weekly theme.  (Read more about it in the rest of the Star!) I pray that this series and the activities with it become another way to tune into God’s presence and become equipped to faithfully follow Jesus.

Because that’s the work to which we are called: not big and flashy but always the faithful work of striving to follow Jesus in the otherwise ordinary moments of our lives.

~ Pastor H.


Weekly STAR Reflection 6-28-2020

The book of Acts has much to teach us about being a church without walls, and this week’s reading is no exception.  The church without walls moves beyond the comfortable, familiar surrounds and into the world.  That’s how the apostle Paul ends up in Athens, addressing the philosophers and testifying to the “God who made the earth and everything in it” (Acts 17:24).

There’s a powerfully uniting message in this passage.  God is not contained by a certain type of building or monument. God is not present only within certain rituals or traditions.  God is not the exclusive property of one group or another.  God is not aligned with any particular political party. Indeed, God “is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).

At a time like this, when so many of our familiar patterns are disrupted, when we can’t access the spaces we experience as sacred, when it can be hard to know who or what to believe, I take comfort in these words from Scripture.  God cannot be contained. None of our human-made containers – not just our buildings, but also our ideologies and cultural practices – are big enough, deep enough, expansive enough to contain our God.

It’s also a challenging word to hear. God cannot be contained.  So what of our human-made containers need to be dismantled, broken open, or rebuilt to better point us to God’s presence?  Put another way, what do we hold more dear than the “God who made the earth and everything in it?”

Regardless of how we respond, God draws near to us, loving us, challenging us, sustaining us and forming us to be the body of Christ – in all times and in all places – for the sake of the world God so loves. Thanks be to God.

~ Pastor H.

Weekly STAR Reflection 6-14-2020

Reflection from Pastor Hoffman:

For many of us – or at least for me – these days of physical distancing feel like a holding pattern. We know that we can’t return to life as it was before March 15. And we don’t yet know what life will look like when the pandemic is behind us – and we surely don’t know when that will be. We’re in the middle of the story and it is still being written.

As businesses reopen and we start connecting with others in three dimensions, we know that we need to establish ways of interacting and being together that keep us as safe as possible. Wearing masks, keeping our distance, limiting the size of our gatherings, keeping hand sanitizer readily available, refraining from hugs and handshakes and sharing food and singing…these practices will ensure our health and safety and we hope, that of the most vulnerable among us, but they also mean that our patterns of daily life will look vastly different. And that means our way of being church will look vastly different, too.

The state has issued very, very detailed guidance about how and when we gather physically. But we turn to God’s Word for guidance about how to be faithful – how to follow Jesus – in this time and place.

So, our worship for the summer will not be based on the lectionary. For the next four weeks, we are diving into the book of Acts, which recounts the story of the early church – its formation and struggles as the earliest disciples sought to faithfully follow the risen Christ. Pastor Amy and I trust that Scripture will ground us in who we are and how we are called to live as we write the story of what the future looks like–for God’s people, for God’s church and for the world God so loves. Grounded in Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the story of God’s love, grace, mercy and justice will be told in the next chapter of our life together.

Weekly STAR Reflection 6-7-2020

Reflection from Pastor Hoffman:

Relationship. It’s all about relationship.

This Sunday, we celebrate the festival of the Holy Trinity. It’s a tricky festival, because it’s not a celebration of an event. It’s a celebration of a mystery – the mystery of God-in-three-persons.

We worship a God of relationship. God does not exist apart from relationship. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Three-in-one and one-in-three. Made in the image of God, we do not exist apart from relationship either. We are connected in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine, as many have discovered during this pandemic and begun to see the far-reaching consequences of our actions and interactions. We are interdependent, but we don’t live as though it is so. We are divided by race, privilege, power, politics…the list goes on. These divisions threaten our relationship – our unity – with God and one another.

We will hear the final words from the gospel of Matthew: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19) Jesus’ mission on earth was to draw all people into relationship – with God and each other, and that’s the work Jesus entrusted to us to continue.

As we gather for worship, we celebrate our God of relationship by giving thanks for the relationships we share beyond our local congregation. We will hear God’s Word proclaimed by our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, as will most other churches across our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We will hear greetings from our brothers and sisters in our twinned parish in Shurugwi, Zimbabwe, as we celebrate the relationship we share in Christ as part of Companion Synod Sunday. (The Upstate NY Synod of which we are part is a Companion Synod to the Lutheran Church in Zambia and the Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe.) Through worship in these ways, we celebrate that we are not an island, but in relationship with Lutheran Christians across the country and around the world, loving God and serving God’s people together.

May our worship give shape to living our lives in relationship with God and restoring us to relationship with one another.