Memorial Day Reflection

Earlier this year I was able to attend a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider led by the Presiding Bishop of the Lutheran Church, Elizabeth Eaton. Present were also a number of military chaplains who have served for many years, an important reminder of the many chaplains of many faiths who minister during some of the most difficult times in the life of the military – comforting bereaved families, praying with fellow soldiers, and proclaiming hope in the midst of sorrow.

On this Memorial Day, as we remember and give thanks for those who have served and died over the generations, we also remember and give thanks for those who have the unique privilege of ministering to those in uniform and their families. And for those of you remembering loved ones who served in uniform, a special blessing for you this weekend. May we be a people who strive and hope for peace.
God’s Peace,

Extra! Extra! It’s Bible Sunday!

Where do you get your news?  Washington Post, Fox News, theSkimm, WSJ, NPR, Twitter?  The choices are endless and we all have our favorite sources for the events of the day.  In D.C. we tend to be news junkies.  Theologian Karl Barth famously said that Ministers of the Word of God should preach with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.   This Sunday, we will hand out Bibles to our 1st5th9th, and 12th graders.  These are age appropriate Bibles to help them learn the stories of God.

At GPC, we hope to send our members, young and old, into the world with the Word of God in their hands and in their hearts.  The world will inundate you with news; the church wants to equip you with God’s holy texts and truths.  Barth again, “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both.  But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”  This is a call for all of us, as we try to understand the hot button issues of the day, to root ourselves in God’s word.  So maybe the question should be: What version of the Bible do you read?  King James Version, New Revised Standard Version, The Message Bible, Story Bible?

In case you are looking for a recommendation – here’s the bible our 12th graders will get on Sunday. 


A Personal Reflection from Mark

Two weeks ago, my father Thomas Joseph Willey died after a long decline at 80 years of age. In November of 2014 I got a call from my step-mother Barbara that my father had been hospitalized with critically low cardiac output and if I wished to see him alive I should get there as soon as possible. When I arrived the heart presser medications they had given him to keep his heart going had killed his kidneys with the resulting blood toxins rendering him mostly unconscious.

I slept on the floor by his bed for the next couple of days. Sometime in the middle of the second night, as dialysis began to clear out the toxins, I heard him say my name. Quickly I got off the ground and leaned over his bed. “Mark” he said, “get my ipad.” He then gave detailed instructions for me to put his headphones on his ears and play four hymns, sung by choirs that he had in a favorite playlist. I don’t remember what all of them were but I know one of them was “Amazing Grace” and that all of them were sturdy sacred hymns of faith. He listened to them all the way through, then fell peacefully to sleep.

The next day the story began to unfold. During the time when it seemed he was unresponsive and unconscious, he was actually in a kind of lucid dream. Elements from the world around him found their way into his dream; snippets of the conversations we were having by his bedside, even the TV that the neighbor in his room had playing. In his dream, he was taken down to hell where Jerry Springer, as the devil, was judging him and his family and friends. Scenes from his life were playing out, in excruciating, slow detail, all to be mocked and condemned by Jerry Springer, the devil. At times he would plead for mercy for one of his sons, or argue to defend one of his grandchildren, but to no avail. He was caught in this dream, and on the occasions when we had seen him wake, a wild, panicked look in his eyes, he was pleading with us to deliver him from the dream but he couldn’t form the words.

On the night when he asked for his iPad, he was beginning to break free from the torture, to rise from the hell of condemnation and Jerry Springer. He needed something to help him complete his journey and that’s when he asked for me to play him the four hymns on his headphones. He told me later they pulled him out of his torture and he slept, dreamless for the first time in several days.

My father died an agnostic, a skeptic about faith and God. But even though my father had long since let go of his faith in God, he turned to hymns to lift him from his hell into the light. There is great power in music. My father knew this, even when he didn’t believe the meaning of the words he was hearing. Those of us who do believe have all the more reason to sing, to celebrate the healing power of our sacred tunes and texts. I will miss my father, but he lives on in me through the personality traits I inherited from him and the many wise life lessons he taught me, including how to appreciate the simple, beautiful power of a great hymn of faith.



Finding Joy

In Wendell Berry’s poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” Berry gives us this counsel: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

I highly suggest you sit down for a few minutes with this seminal poem of his, and consider how strangely counter-cultural his suggestion is. I find most weeks a plethora of distressing news that’s apt to make many, like myself, feel anxious and discouraged. This is nothing new, although it perhaps can feel more acute with 24-hour news cycles right here in the nation’s capital. Nonetheless, Berry believes that it is our obligation to be joyful, nonetheless.

He ends his poem with two simple words: “Practice resurrection.” In the reality of the resurrection, we do indeed have a hope and a joy that tells us a contrary narrative to the one we often hear. The world isn’t just falling apart, but the world is being mended and made new by God and by God’s people who choose to live joyfully and hopefully.

So friends, indeed, be joyful this week, even though you’ve considered all the facts.


Witnessing a Baptism

It is so wonderful to be celebrating another baptism on Sunday. Each time is an opportunity to talk about the meaning behind the sacrament. Who can get baptized? What are the requirements? What exactly “happens” when the water hits your head?

Ideally everything that happens in a worship service can serve to testify to God’s love and to help us learn more about our God and ourselves. On Sunday, I invite you to come in with fresh ears, eyes, and spirits, open to the things that God is showing us when we gather together.

See you Sunday,
Pastor Rachel