Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
"Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you." --the 4th Commandment (Exodus 20.12, ESV)
Pictured above is my father, James Earl O'Donnell, with his mother, Anna, some time in the early 1960s, when he was serving in the U.S. Navy, stationed at Okinawa, and spending a lot of time in and around Vietnam.
I had the occasion recently to meet a man who had little relationship with his father, even though they lived near one another. In fact, I was told, they went through a period where they did not speak for something like 20 years. This I find profoundly sad, for today my family remembers the seventeenth anniversary of my father's death, and--yes, for all his faults--I lived every day knowing that I had a father who loved me. As I grew older I began to realize the depth of his sacrifice for me and my siblings. I realize that more deeply every day.
Thus, on this day, I give thanks to my Heavenly Father for my earthly father, who parented with passion and much grace. Above all, in spite of his years of rebellion, I give thanks to the Lord for His forbearance in patiently teaching my father and calling him to public repentance just three days before he died. That God-given act of submission and humility, though I initially rejected it and was angered by it, became in these last seventeen years a constant source of encouragement and thanksgiving.
I think my father would be particularly pleased with where the Lord has now placed me, as pastor of St. Philip Lutheran Church and School in Chicago. I say this because my work is analogous to the work my father was doing at the time of his death. In 1988 he was given the opportunity to manage a couple GM parts factories in Mississippi. They were in big trouble; in danger of closing. Finally given the opportunity to exercise the breadth of his significant personal skills and experience, those plants in short order were transformed into clean, productive workplaces and, as I understand, models for the corporation. Many hundreds of jobs, I was told, were saved because Jim O'Donnell showed a love for people and gave them the opportunity to exercise their talents.
At St. Philip I have an analogous situation--a congregation with a great history and great people who have been through some challenging times. My task is to set people free through the Gospel, to help the people realize their God-given gifts and use them, in the congregation and the community. In this work, I recognize, I am simply an undershepherd, for St. Philip is Christ's congregation. I am a "steward of the mysteries of God," not the author and perfecter thereof.
O let the people praise Thy worth,
In all good works increasing;
The land shall plenteous fruit bring forth,
Thy Word is rich in blessing.
May god the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit bless us!
Let all the world praise Him alone,
Let solemn awe possess us.
Now let our hearts say, "Amen!"
--"May God Bestow on Us His Grace"
Lutheran Service Book #823 (CPH, 2006)
Monday, December 7, 2009
The kids were thrilled, and as I walked them to school this morning it was tough to keep them out of it! In any case, I welcome the snow. There is something about it that lightens my step, especially after the l-o-n-g day yesterday...
I was up at 4am (typical for a Sunday) and then off to practice my sermon and the service for a couple hours. My wife still has the flu, so I was able to help a bit with getting the kids ready for service. My eldest daughter volunteers to babysit some little kids while I teach a new member class at 9:00 a.m. The class went well, and then we had a fine worship service at 10:00 a.m. I am preaching a special series of sorts for the Sundays of Advent and Christmas that I am calling "St. Philip Celebrates." Each Sunday we meditate on a key concept from the Epistle reading. Here's an outline:
The readings from the New Testament epistles ("letters") are often commentary on the Gospel, which itself is fulfillment of the Old Testament, so it has been enjoyable to weave these together in a way--I am finding--that connects the whole of the Scripture to present.
Friday, December 4, 2009
On August 16, 2009 I took office as the Pastor of St. Philip Lutheran Church and School on Chicago's north side. Truth be told, my work began well before that, but it has been particularly intense from the moment we arrived. I had my first meeting, an introduction to the Board of The Foundation for St. Philip, while the moving company was still unpacking the truck on August 10th. The next day (Aug 11th) the teachers reported for duty at the school, and I was there to get acquainted and prepare for the school year with them. We had a glorious installation service on the afternoon on August 16, 2009, and the next Sunday was the opening service for the school. Both were very well-attended by church and school families. Hope was--and is--in the air.
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not [yet] seen." -Hebrews 11.1
"But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14, ESV)
St. Philip has been through some years of struggle, and as with any family that has been through a period of struggle, a sort of homeostasis of struggle is achieved. That is, we get "used to" living in "survival mode" or in thoughts and actions that are, ultimately, unhelpful. (I read a very helpful book about this years ago, Generation to Generation by Edwin Friedman.) So it is that a key to my faithful service as St. Philip's pastor is to not get distracted by "what lies behind" but point myself and the people here at St. Philip ahead, constantly ahead, in assurance of the things hoped for.
The picture above is from the "Harvest Festival" held in the gym at St. Philip Lutheran School on November 14, 2009. It is a great example of that for which we must hope and strive: church families and school families coming together, enjoying one another and supporting Christ's ministry. And a glorious ministry it is! St. Philip is a congregation with a great future. Our forefathers have bequeathed to us a lovely facility in which to celebrate the Gospel and our school is strongly Christ-centered, with a consequent history of demonstrated academic excellence. Still, it is God's will for us to "strain forward to what lies ahead"; that is, to greater maturity in Christ--as individuals and as a congregation.
So it is, in my call as a missionary-pastor, that I take the example of St. Paul:
"Him [Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me." (Colossians 1:28-29, ESV)