Tag Archive: Chaplain


This is the sermon I preached this morning at Trinity Lutheran Church in North Bethesda, Maryland for the Feast of Mary, Mother of Our Lord.

Luke 1:46–55
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

In order to get to the seminary in Gettysburg, I drive up Rt. 15, a pretty drive through farmland and over the Catoctin Mountains. About 40 minutes into my drive, I usually reach Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland just before crossing over the border into Pennsylvania. For those of you who haven’t been out that way, behind the University on a hill and reaching over the trees on an 80-foot tall bell tower is a gleaming gold statue of the Virgin Mary with her arms in a welcoming gesture. Each morning, I can’t help but look up at this statue to see how the sun is hitting it or how the morning fog is drifting around the mountains. Looking at this gorgeous golden statue, it’s almost hard to imagine Mary’s earthly life.

Mary’s own words in the Magnificat, our Gospel reading for today, sum up her life best: she sings that God looked on the “lowliness of his servant.” Mary was a poor, young Jewish girl, recently engaged to Joseph when she received the unexpected and life-changing news that she was to bear a son. This was not just any son either, but, as the angel Gabriel explained, a holy child, a child who would be known as the “Son of the Most High” and the “Son of God,” whose kingdom would have no end. Mary bears the son who shows us that God is indeed with us.

In her song, Mary sings exuberantly about the great deeds of God – actions affecting both the world and her own personal life. In fact, it is due to God’s work in her life that she declares that all generations will call her blessed. This is very odd considering that God’s work in her life almost certainly would have caused people to whisper about and look down on this pregnant, unmarried girl. Yet, even with these thoughts, Mary recognized that what God was doing in her was important and that she was chosen for a great task, and she joyfully responded to God’s call, trusting Gabriel’s message that “nothing will be impossible with God.”

Instead of choosing the rich or powerful, the ones society esteems, God calls and raises up the ordinary. Again and again, God’s stunning and gracious theme of lifting up the lowly is repeated in Scripture. Joseph, once a slave and prisoner in Egypt, is given tremendous power in the Pharaoh’s court. The shepherd boy David crushes the mighty Goliath and becomes a king who will be honored throughout time. God selects a poor, young woman from Nazareth to bring about the incarnation. And it is in the shame and humiliation of the cross that God’s incredible love for all of humanity, each and every one of us, is made visible.

As Mary sings, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” In the Magnificat, Mary sings about the God who cares for the poor and hungry, once more giving them a name and a place in society. In the early church, Mary was given the name “Theotokos” a word which literally means “God-bearer.” While Mary’s specific calling was to physically bear God to the world, amazingly enough, God has also called us to be God-bearers – those who share the love of God with the world.

Our lives bear witness to the God who has been at work in them. Think about it – the word “Christian” indicates that we are to share Christ with one another and with the world. This title we carry is a sign, pointing to the one we follow. Like a sort of holy graffiti spelling out “God is here,” our lives should proclaim the work of the living and active God. But how do we bear the love of Christ to others?

This task may seem too big for us. I know some days it certainly feels that way to me! We say, “I can’t do what God is calling me to do. I’m not good enough” or “I don’t have the skills needed” or “I’m too afraid” or “what will I say?” But Mary, a young girl, uneducated and of low-ranking status in society, shows us that God doesn’t necessarily call those we would choose. Instead, God calls each one of us to be a part of the extraordinary work God is doing – to be a part of the kingdom of God, already here and still not quite fully realized.

Sadly, instead of following Mary’s example, we often construct barriers and walls to keep God out, when all God asks is that we become open to hearing how God is calling us. As Martin Luther pointed out when discussing the three miracles of Christmas, “the virgin birth is a mere trifle for God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but most amazing of all is that this maiden should credit the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin, had been chosen to be mother of God. She held fast to the word of the angel because she had become a new creature. Even so must we be transformed and renewed in heart from day-to-day. Otherwise, Christ is born in vain.”

Just like Mary, the mother of our Lord, God asks us to be receptive to the work God longs to do in us and through us. Moreover, we must actually believe that God can and will do what God promises. Otherwise, as Luther argued, what is the point of Jesus coming into the world if we are not transformed by his love or refuse to heed his call or to share his love with those around us? In those moments when we believe and hold fast to the promises of God and allow God to work through us, we become God-bearers to those around us, even if we can’t always see the fruits of our labor.

This summer, I was a chaplain during my Clinical Pastoral Education internship. When I first began, I had this nervous feeling that people would be asking difficult theological questions of me – maybe even questions I wasn’t prepared to answer. Talk about intimidated! However, after a few weeks of visits, I realized, much to my surprise, that, more than anything, people wanted someone to listen, someone to whom they could explain their sorrows, fears, hope and dreams. Yes, above all, people wanted a compassionate ear, someone who would patiently and empathetically listen.

I found that as a chaplain, I was called to share the love of Christ with others by being with them in their struggles and loneliness. I came to realize that it wasn’t always in the words we say, but in how we open ourselves to receive others’ stories and to be with others that we bear God to those around us.

There is incredible good news in the lessons I learned this summer, as well as in the shining example Mary gives us. Both remind us that all are capable of bearing God to the world. It definitely doesn’t take a seminarian or a chaplain to listen or to be with others in their difficulties. Remember, Mary didn’t have any seminary training in order to be a God-bearer! Instead, Mary’s story and her song ask us to remember that each and every one of us, no matter how ordinary we think we are, has been called to show the love, mercy and compassion of God to others.

Within the church, people can respond to God’s call by being Stephen Ministers – people trained to be empathetic listeners – or by participating in other ministries. But it’s crucial to remember that God’s love is not confined inside the walls of the church. This spring, I was strengthened and encouraged in my faith by a Muslim woman. This young woman spoke of the difficulties one sometimes faces as a person of faith, but that these hardships only made her feel closer to God. This conversation reminded me that God is with us in all of our sufferings and trials and gave me energy to finish out the spring semester.

And, more recently, a friend of mine witnessed to the love of God by helping his neighbors. After hearing that they were grieving and going through a difficult time, he listened to their story, helped them bring groceries inside and offered his help if they needed it in the future. As Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and prolific spiritual writer explained, “we are called to witness, always with our lives and sometimes with our words, to the great things God has done for us.” Sometimes simple gestures of patience, compassion and kindness are all people need to break through the darkness and remind them that there are people who care and a God who loves them.

There is a song by Brandon Heath entitled “Give Me Your Eyes” which has become a moving prayer for me. The lyrics are as follows:

“Give me your eyes for just one second,
Give me your eyes so I can see,
Everything that I keep missing,
Give me your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the broken-hearted,
The ones that are far beyond my reach,
Give me you heart for the ones forgotten,
Give me your eyes so I can see…”

If we, like Mary, are open to listening to God and to what God is calling us to, we will indeed be given everything we need to reach out to others. Just as God kept the promises made to Abraham and the promise that a Savior would be born, God will be faithful and grant us what we need to reach out in love, mercy and service to others.

And, if we keep our eyes and, most importantly, our hearts open, we will find that there are plenty of people who could use a listening ear, a kind word or a shoulder to cry on. Moreover, we, like Mary in her song, can share the joy we have in knowing God and the freedom of forgiveness with a world weary and weighed down with violence, bad news and hurt. There are so many hungry people waiting to be filled with good things, whether that means food, a safe place to stay or hope for the future. How can we share God with them so that they also might be filled with good things?

Both CPE and Mary’s story have taught me that there is a beautiful ebb and flow to all of this. Mary is open to God’s frightening call to bring a Savior into the world, even though it might have meant ridicule and persecution for her. The disciples were open to Jesus’ call to follow and were empowered to spread the news of the kingdom of God. Jesus was open to life as one of us – open to suffering and death on a cruel cross in order to bring light, forgiveness and new life to every corner of the world. What if any of them hadn’t been open to God’s call or had said “no?”

This ebb and flow is crucial in our lives as followers of Christ. Daily, we remember our baptisms in which we have died with Christ and been raised to new life in him. Week after week we gather around the Lord’s Table to receive God and be nourished so that we can be sent back into the world to witness to God’s work in our lives. We must listen to others in order to know what they are going through in their lives so we can help bear their burdens. And, we ourselves, must be able to receive assistance from friends, neighbors and even strangers, so that, once again, we may be ready to tackle the tasks we have been given.

As Albert Schweitzer, a theologian, renowned organist and philanthropist of the 20th century encouraged, “Impart as much as you can of your spiritual being to those who are on the road with you, and accept as something precious what comes back to you from them.” We must learn to give and receive in our walk with Christ. We must spend time being filled up with the Spirit of God in worship, prayer, hearing the Word, in Communion and in fellowship with others so that we might reach out in love.

Each of us has an integral and irreplaceable part to play in this holy rhythm – this sacred dance. Are we open to what God is calling us to do or where God is calling us to be? Are we open to serving those God is calling us to serve? Do we take the time to listen to the still voice of God instead of plowing forward with our own agendas? Are we, like Mary, able to trust God and the work God wants to do in our lives? And, like Mary, can we sing out in joy and thanksgiving about the great things God has done for us and all people?

Mary’s song, the Magnificat, not only reminds us of the miraculous acts of God, but it serves as a witness to us that we are also called to be “God-bearers,” to use the gifts we have been given to share the love and forgiveness of God with the world. A young girl once listened to and trusted in the call of God to give birth to a child – a child who would grow up and change the world forever. If you listen closely, what is God calling you to do? Amen.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

The Gift of Receiving

I’m just beginning my fourth week of my summer adventure of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), and I’m beginning to see that my ideas about ministry are being beautifully changed. I began the summer thinking that I needed to be an awesome chaplain (think about Rob Bell’s image of “super pastor” in Velvet Elvis!) who always knew the right things to say, who could wax eloquent about deep theological truths, and was empathetic, warm and caring. Well, those are all good things, for sure, but they’re not very realistic – particularly the first two. Sometimes the words don’t come and sometimes people don’t want to discuss religion or God at all. Sometimes, it’s been a long day and you’re not as empathetic or responsive as you’d like to be.

Once I started doing visits, I realized that a lot of people just wanted a listening ear – someone who was willing to listen non-judgmentally. Believe me, I was greatly relieved to discover this! However, as I’ve been making my rounds and encountering wonderful people, I’ve stumbled upon another truth. What is this truth? It’s that the people I visit often give me incredible gifts of wisdom and encouragement. Some people have even prayed for me! Frequently, I find myself walking away from encounters thinking “wow – that person was incredibly inspiring to me,” or “wow – I learned so much from that person,” or even, “that person ministered to me.” I feel like every meeting, no matter how long, has left a mark on my life and has taught me something.

My supervisor asked us in class how open we were to receiving these gifts and ministry from other people. It’s a great question and one I’ve been thinking about a lot. Some people find it very easy to serve and to give of themselves to others, which is a wonderful gift, but the flip side is that they may not really know how to receive these same gifts from others. I think this is a particular struggle for people in the so-called “helping fields.”

People need to be open to receiving the gifts others have to offer for two reasons I can see right now. First of all, it’s good self-care. When you open yourself to humbly accept someone’s ministry, you are allowing someone to care for you. We all need help and support from time to time – why not accept it? Second, it also allows the person bestowing the gift a chance to offer something to another person. The giver is able to share a talent or a lesson learned and to pass that on to someone else. Helping people also feels good! It makes the giver feel like they are able to contribute, which can also help build their sense of worth.

I am amazed every day that people who were strangers only minutes before can become dispensers of wisdom and ministers to me, the chaplain. The priesthood of all believers is a humbling and moving reminder that all can be bearers of God’s light and love to others if only we are open to receive the precious gift they extend to us.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Love One Another

This was the last sermon I preached at my Teaching Parish of Trinity Lutheran in Greencastle, Pennsylvania and was given today (May 2, 2010).

John 13:31-35
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Love. The Beatles said it was all we needed. We use this little word to say we really like something, as in “oh my gosh, I love shoes!” or “I really love mocha chocolate chip ice cream!” Both of those are totally true by the way… We even use it when speaking to one another, and amazingly enough, this one word is used to cover a broad range of relationships – relationships between parents and children, those between friends, those between lovers. For a four-letter word, “love” is pretty versatile!

Last November, I had an interview for Clinical Pastoral Education, a program I’ll be participating in over this summer. Basically, I will be a chaplain at Gettysburg Hospital, learning about pastoral care firsthand. After speaking with me about what I hoped to learn over the summer and a bit about my faith journey, the interviewer asked me about what exactly had brought me to faith in God. You see, I wasn’t raised in any religious background so the interviewer was wondering how on earth I had ended up at seminary! A fair question to be sure!

After thinking a bit, I answered that it was God’s overwhelming and amazing love. The love that says no matter how much I mess up, God still wants to forgive me and have a relationship with me. And the fact that someone, a man named Jesus, had been willing to die for me in order to forgive me and bring me into relationship with God. That astounded me – who was this man who would give his life for me? I mean, he would do that for me even though I didn’t even know him?! That blew my mind and continues to leave me speechless. The feeling I had that God was out there, coupled with hearing about Jesus’ selfless act on the cross, told me that there was a God who loved me more than I could even begin to fathom. Once I heard that, I wanted to hear more – I wanted to know more about this God who would go to such incredible lengths for the sake of people who sinned and turned their backs on God and each other.

It was from here that my faith journey took off, slowly, but surely. Along the way, I have encountered many things, both positive and negative in the church, as I am sure you have as well. It’s quite inevitable to avoid any negative experiences within the church, because, ultimately, we are dealing with people who share and struggle with the same sins. In my personal experiences, I have encountered the condemnation of others who did not believe the exact same things being taught as well as people looking down on those of different faiths. I firmly believe that this is contrary to the new commandment Jesus gave to his disciples.

In our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus declares: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This statement comes just after Jesus has knelt to wash the dirty feet of his disciples. It also follows Jesus’ statement about the glory he and God the Father have received through Judas’ betrayal and the upcoming crucifixion. Jesus gives this new commandment, but he elaborates on it, saying that the disciples are to love just as he has loved them.

When I don’t slow down to actually think about what Jesus is saying, I think “oh, loving other people – that’s like being “nice” to them, right?” Yes, of course, but Jesus’ two sentences here mean infinitely more. First of all, love is a verb, not a noun. It’s an action, and, in the original language, the verb that is used here translates into “keep on” or “continue loving one another.” Here, Jesus is urging his disciples to continue loving one another, especially given that he knows his trial and crucifixion are going to happen in a few short hours. The community of faith must continue on in the spirit of Christ, even though dark and trying times are around the corner.

Secondly, what exactly does “just as I have loved you” mean? At a quick glance, it’s tempting to think of pictures of Jesus smiling and laughing with children or of the songs “Jesus loves me” or “Jesus loves the little children.” While these are wonderful in their own right, I think Jesus’ statement here is much more powerful. Jesus stands before his disciples as the Word become flesh, the one who was “in the beginning with God,” the one who has done incredible signs and taught powerful things. He stands there as the one who has just taken on the role of a slave, washing the disciples’ feet and who has predicted his impending suffering, death and resurrection. He has done all of these things out of love and now, he tells them to love each other as he has loved them. That is way more than being nice to one another!

There is a Middle English poem in the Commonplace Book of John Grimstone written in 1372, which speaks to this love beautifully:

“Love brought me,
And love created me,
Man, to be your companion.
Love fed me,
And love led me,
And love abandoned me here.

Love slew me,
And love drew me,
And love laid me in a tomb.
Love is my peace,
For love I chose,
Man to dearly buy.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t rhyme or flow as well when it’s translated, but I think it captures the depth of Christ’s love for us.

But what does this all mean for us? Having received this amazing love, how does it affect our lives? Jesus has commanded his disciples and us to love one another with the same selfless love he showed in his life, throughout his ministry and in his death on the cross for our sake. We must get our hands dirty, throwing ourselves into loving others just as Jesus took on human flesh to show the love of God to and for us. Like happy gardeners reveling in the messiness and earthiness of the garden soil, we are to be busy about the work of the kingdom of God, loving with abandon.

Jesus also told his followers, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Like a badge or a tattoo, loving one another like Christ will show the world who his disciples are – who his representatives are on earth.

All I have to say to that is a sheepish, “Oops.” How many times have I shown less than Christ-like love to others? Driving on the road, in my relationships with those around me, the list could go on…I know for sure that I have not always loved as Christ loved me. I also have this sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only one here who has had this problem! As I said before, love is an action, not a noun. It is something that we must continue to seek to do, relying on God’s never-ending grace and the Spirit working within us. I have also found that two of my favorite authors have encouragement for all who would seek to follow Christ.

First, C.S. Lewis, the great 20th century apologist and author, wrote, “do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him.”
In other words, Lewis wants us to stop thinking about and pondering whether or not we are truly loving someone and, like Nike would tell us, “just do it!” If we begin treating people as if we already loved them, with dignity, honoring them with our time and extending generosity and hospitality, I think we will be surprised to find that our attitude toward them shifts.

Second, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pastor, theologian and member of the Resistance movement against the Nazis, wrote extensively in his book Life Together, how Christians can and should live in community with one another. In this book, he urges people to pray for one another, to listen to each another’s stories, to bear one another’s burdens, to forgive each other, to proclaim God’s love and forgiveness to one another, and to allow God to interrupt our plans and hectic lives for the sake of others. This list rings true today, even though it’s more than 60 years later.

Remember that we are not just to love one another in the church or in the body of Christ, but also to love one another in the world. The famous Rabbi Hillel, who lived around the time of Jesus from 30 BCE to 10 CE, wrote, “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” This applies directly to loving one another as Christ loved us. Yes, it is important for us to speak for ourselves and love one another within the church, but if we are not speaking for and caring for others, for our brothers and sisters outside of the church, then who are we as the body of Christ? Jesus, a Jewish man, went to Samaria and taught there, even though it was taboo for the two religions and cultures to interact. Time and time again, Jesus reached out to the outsiders and the marginalized and loved them.

If we do not stand with indigenous peoples whose homes and livelihoods are being destroyed due to deforestation and pollution, who will? If we do not stand with those who are persecuted due to their race, ethnicity, gender or faith, who will? If we do not do so, just as Jesus did, who are we? And, if we do not do it now, when will we do so? Will we only wake up when it is too late?

Love is a many splendored thing for sure. But love as Jesus talks about it is not static or something that happens to us. Rather it is something we are to actively participate in. As love brought Jesus to take on flesh and love for all of us drove him to the cross, it is a powerful force, not just a four-letter word. We have been commanded to love just as Jesus loved us and we are able to because Christ loved us first. We are to respond to the love of Christ by going and doing likewise. Are we up for the challenge? Maybe The Beatles were right: all you need is love. Perhaps, however, we can expand our view to include that of the band Switchfoot when they sing “Love is the movement. Love is a revolution. Get up, get up. Love is moving you now.” Love, the overwhelming love of Christ, is moving us now. Amen.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Love

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