Click on a month to view the message from Pastor Sarah:
June 2021 Pastor Sarah's Message on hope and healing
Dear People of God at St. Barnabas,
I don’t think I could find one person who’d say they’d like the pandemic to continue. We try to find positives that have come out of it—the medical research that led to the vaccines that we can apply to other areas of medicine, the time we spent with our families, the opportunity to reevaluate our priorities, etc.—but those positives have come at a great price. We are ready to be done.
And yet the pandemic lingers. People are still getting Covid, we’re still dying from it or having long-term effects. It’s still impacting our families and our work and our mental health.
This spring, as we were contemplating what to do with worship over the summer (the Narrative Lectionary runs from September through May, so we always need to figure out June through August), we found a worship series entitled “Unraveled.” Here’s a brief description of it:
“What happens when our world falls apart? How do we press onward when our tightly-knit plans unravel into loose threads? What do we become when our identity—or the path we’re on—comes undone? What if all of this is not the end we fear it will be?
“In our unraveling, sometimes life surprises us with unexpected joy, love, and hope—with a new beginning we couldn’t have imagined. Sometimes we need God to unravel us, for we long to be changed. This worship series explores stories of unraveled shame, identity, fear, grief, dreams, and expectations. These are stories where God meets us in the spiraling, unraveling our plans—and us—into something new.”
When I first saw this, I didn’t think it would work this summer. Aren’t we done with all this unraveling business? Aren’t we moving on from this pandemic to something better, something more positive? But then I thought of all the healing we have to do—as individuals and as communities. I thought about the fact that life is always unraveling, even when it seems like we’ve dealt with our share and shouldn’t have to continue dealing with more. I thought of how we struggle to see God’s presence in these hard, unraveled situations and how we blame God when we can’t comprehend what’s happening or see any good in being unraveled.
So I’m hoping and praying that the Unraveled series is just what we all need—a chance to remember that life has unraveled for us since the beginning of time and a chance to remember that God is always in both the unraveling and the putting life back together again. Bring the scraps and pieces of your life that are a tangled mess, and together, let’s see how God weaves us into something new.
With Hope and Healing,
May 2021 Pastor Sarah's Message on Mental Health
Dear People of God at St. Barnabas,
Spiritual practices (meditation and reading scripture, for example) are linked to increased levels of feel-good chemicals…as well as decreased levels of cortisol and noradrenaline, which are associated with stress.
One study found that people who attend religious services monthly show a 22% lower risk of depression.
U.S. military veterans who identified themselves as being highly religious or spiritual showed high levels of gratitude, purpose in life, and post-traumatic growth, and lower risk of depression, suicidal thinking, and alcohol abuse than their lesser- or non-spiritual/religious peers.
These studies are from www.mentalhealthamerica.net. May is Mental Health Month, and mental health is something we need to talk about more in the church and more after everything that’s happened this last year.
Statistics show that 1 in 5 adults will experience a mental health condition in any given year. If we come into contact with 20 adults this week, that means at least 4 of them will struggle with their mental health this year. That also means that we all know someone who’s struggling with their mental health, even if we don’t know who they are.
According to NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), 90% of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. As of 2018, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and it’s preventable. The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90% of individuals have a significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with the right treatments and supports.
NAMI says this about stigma: “People experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying, and discrimination. This can make their journey to recovery longer and more difficult. Stigma is when someone, or you yourself, views you negatively because you have a mental health condition. Some people describe stigma as shame that can be felt as judgement from someone or a feeling that’s internal, something that confuses feeling bad with being bad.” We need to talk openly and caringly about mental health if we want to eliminate stigma and normalize the fact that life takes a toll on our mental health.
Church can play an important part when we struggle with mental health. Sometimes we need more than what we find in church, so please know you can always talk to me about your mental health; I would love to connect you with any of the many resources in our community to support you in gaining greater mental health. Above all, know that God cares deeply—about our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and our mental health.
April 2021 Pastor Sarah's Message on Care
Dear People of God at St. Barnabas,
“The cure for burnout isn’t and can’t be self-care. It has to be all of us caring for each other.” (Drs. Emily and Amelia Nagoski)
I don’t know much about these twin sisters who recently authored a book on burnout, but I love this quote. Over the years I’ve taught church leaders about maintaining healthy boundaries. When boundaries are breached, there can be terrible consequences, such as sexual or financial misconduct, which can inflict major damage on churches; this damage has long-reaching and long-lasting impacts on communities.
I’ve found that the most important boundaries to maintain are our own—making sure we’re healthy body, mind, and soul. We need to take care of ourselves. When we get tired in any of these areas, we’re more prone to letting our boundaries down. This is true for pastors and for anyone.
For a long time, I assumed my self-care was solely my responsibility. That’s why it’s called SELF-care, right?!? But when I read the quote by Drs. Nagoski, I realized that one of the reasons I love the church is that when a church is functioning well, we’re all caring for each other.
Thank you all for the amazing care you’ve given me during my surgery recovery. Thank you for the phone calls, cards, texts, and emails. Thank you for the meals and restaurant gift cards. Thank you for stepping in to help out in so many ways. Thank you for the prayers and for the patience you’ve had while my energy has been low. Thank you for illustrating the opening quote in such tangible ways.
During this last year we’ve tried to extend care to the congregation by making care packages for our health care workers, teachers, and seniors. We hoped the Advent and Lenten bags would help people to feel cared for. We’ve sent cards and made phone calls to members to let everyone know we’re here. We hope you’ve felt cared for.
If you have any new ideas of how we, as a church body, can care for each other, please let me know. And if you or someone you know needs extra care, please reach out and ask.
Finally, I ‘ll leave you with another quote. There are plenty of places in the Bible that talk about caring for each other. Of course the Golden Rule is all about that. But here’s a quote from 1 John 4:11 that I also really love because it restates the Golden Rule so nicely: “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”
With God’s Exquisite Care,
March 2021 Pastor Sarah's Message on Patience
Dear People of God at St. Barnabas,
I’m writing this a few days before my surgery. The closer I get to surgery, the more impatient I am to have it done. I’m tired of waiting to be out of pain, and I’m tired of being nervous about it.
So patience has been heavy on my mind.
I tried to convince myself that I’m just not a patient person. I immediately regretted that thought because usually when I think something like that, God shines a light on just how many times a day I need patience. As I was quickly walking back from that thought, another occurred to me: patience is a choice. Some people may be born with it, but most of us must choose it.
So I decided to choose patience that day.
First, I chose not to send snarky texts to my family when some members made excuses for why they couldn’t make dinner. It turned out I got to cook dinner with my son, which was a really lovely way to spend time with him.
Then, I chose not to send an irritated email to someone who messed up; I knew I was tired, and I decided to practice patience and trust that the next morning I wouldn’t be so irritated. I wasn’t, and I was able to deal kindly with the situation.
Finally, I did NOT choose to be patient with a family member while we were trying to figure something out. I snapped at them and watched as they physically deflated and left the room. I missed the chance to finish the project and to hang out together.
Choosing patience is hard, but it was worth it.
Recently I was talking to pastoral colleagues who said they have more Covid cases in their congregations than ever. In part I think this is because we’re impatient for the pandemic to be over. It’s been nearly a year, the vaccine is in sight, and we miss our friends and family members. We’re taking more risks because we’re impatient.
We’ve all seen this lack of patience in how people treat each other on social media and in person. Rather than patiently walking away from a fight, we’re engaging in thoughtless bickering, name calling, and general rudeness.
Choosing patience will probably always be something I have to think hard about and even force myself to practice. I’m sure this will be especially difficult while I’m recovering and have to rely on others to do so much for me.
So I offer you words from James 5:7, “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.” I don’t know about you, but I can use a precious crop that will nourish and sustain me. May we all have the strength and the wisdom to choose patience, and may we have the joy of reaping its benefits.
In God’s Peace,
Since February is the month of love, I wanted to know more about St. Valentine. I’ve heard things about how he defied the Romans and performed secret weddings, but that’s about it.
I consulted some websites, and it turns out there’s more myth than reality tied to the Valentines (yes, that’s plural) on which our St. Valentine’s Day is based. Apparently, there were multiple people named Valentine—and one named Valentina—who may have been martyred for defying the Roman government: one for performing illegal marriages when they were outlawed for soldiers and one for miraculously restoring the vision of the daughter of a Roman judge who then converted to Christianity. The poet Geoffrey Chaucer (Remember having to read him in school? Ugh!) wrote a poem in the 1300s about birds falling love on February 14, which is why all the stores are now filled with pink hearts and chocolate this month.
Even though the origins of Valentine’s Day are disappointedly suspect, I think we can all agree that if ever there were a time when we needed love, it’s now.
I recently had a conversation with someone about the deep divides we’ve created in the United States. Rather than focusing on what we can agree on, we’ve turned our focus to what we don’t agree on. I have no idea where this person stood politically, but that didn’t matter because we talked about God’s love, and we both agreed that living out God’s love is hard—but it’s what we need.
He told me about a neighbor who’d moved in next door to him several years ago. Despite his family’s efforts to be neighborly, this family remained cold and distant. But then, he said, God laid it on his heart to reach out to this family and to pray for them—to extend love to them even though it felt like they’d put up a tall fence to keep everyone out. After praying for them for many months and doing kind things for them, they found out the couple was divorcing and that things inside the house next door had been rough.
When he saw beneath their surface and glimpsed their pain, he realized his efforts to show love, as grudging as they were most of the time, were worth it because he trusted that God used that love to make a difference for a family in crisis.
So here’s my challenge to you in this month of love. Read through verses 4-7 of 1 Corinthians 13, “the love chapter” as we call it, while thinking about those you struggle to love. It could be a neighbor, a family member, or those faceless people on the other side of our political ideologies. As you read through what love is and what love is not, listen to how God is putting it on your heart to love those you struggle to love, and then go do it. It’s okay if you love through gritted teeth; God will take care of what happens next. Just love. (Bonus points if you read the entire chapter to understand why God wants us to love.)
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
In God’s Abundant and Challenging Love,
Dear People of God at St. Barnabas,
Recently I heard the term “cheerleader fatigue.” It’s not an official diagnosis or new disease, but I bet you can guess what it means. It’s when we get tired of being the cheerleader, being the one who works to keep up the spirits of our family members or friends. I immediately realized that I’ve been experiencing that, but I’m not sure fatigue is strong enough! “Cheerleader empty” is a lot closer to how I’m feeling after this last year.
How do we endure the national upheavals we’ve experienced the last 10 months: the pandemic, the politics, the riots? How do we endure the personal upheavals we’ve experienced as we go from one crisis to the next while still in this health crisis? After awhile, it’s exhausting to be the hands and feet of God, which is what Jesus called us to be when he told us that the second greatest commandment, after loving God, is loving our neighbors as ourselves.
But there are two parts to that second commandment: we love our neighbors AND we love ourselves. As Christians, we have 2 good places to go when we need to love ourselves: scripture and prayer. Both can provide strength, direction, peace, and so much more in these hard times. So let me offer you some Bible passages and some prayers as ways to fill up the emptiness you may be experiencing.
Matthew 11, Romans 8, and Philippians 4 are some of my go-to scriptures for hard times. They remind me that Jesus helps me carry my burdens, that nothing can separate us from God’s love, and that God’s peace is so good, it’s beyond understanding. Psalms 23, 27, and 139 are just a few of the many that I find comforting. It’s as easy as a google search to find more, or just start reading.
Here are three prayers written specifically for times of conflict and upheaval (from sundaysandseasons.com. Copyright © 2021 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved). These aren’t new prayers, which tells us that conflict and upheaval have been around forever. May we trust that God hears our prayers and will continually work to turn us to the light that is Christ our Savior.
God, our refuge and strength, you have bound us together in a common life. In all our conflicts, help us to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, to listen for your voice amid competing claims, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O God, where hearts are fearful and constricted, grant courage and hope. Where anxiety is infectious and widening, grant peace and reassurance. Where impossibilities close every door and window, grant imagination and resistance. Where distrust twists our thinking, grant healing and illumination. Where spirits are daunted and weakened, grant soaring wings and strengthened dreams. All these things we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
We pray to you almighty God, in this time. You are our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Do not let us fail in the face of these events. Uphold us with your love, and give us the strength we need. Help us in our confusion, and guide our actions. Heal the hurt, console the bereaved and afflicted, protect the innocent and helpless, and deliver any who are still in peril; for the sake of your great mercy in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Finally, let me encourage you to spend as much time in prayer and scripture as you do watching the news–maybe even more. Remember that love always wins and that we are called to be that love in the world. May your prayers and God’s holy scripture change your hearts in new and life-giving ways.
With God’s Great Peace,