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January: A place for her, a space for her, a need for Martha as we gathered

By Pastor Paul Stumme-Diers

Dear Bethanians,

On Sunday, Dec. 8, Bethany Lutheran Church sent out two groups of carolers following worship. The first, a delegation of some of Bethany’s finest voices, went to Bethany’s “at home” members in Poulsbo. The report back was that of a delightful
time together, with voices singing in tune, in
harmony, and in the spirit of the story of God’s love
made known in the baby Jesus.

The other group of carolers, in contrast, were led not by fine voices but by yours truly. We ventured to Madison House to sing in a less-polished performance, but what we lacked in musicality we more than made up for in enthusiasm and volume
… we had a number of children with us, after all.

Halfway through our caroling, a woman found her way, via her walker, to the piano next to us. There she sat down, and began to accompany us, without music, without missing a beat, but with  wonderful musical flourishes that made us sound good. With her accompaniment, all the Madison House residents joined in. Her name is Martha, and she is 103 years old.

With her accompaniment, all the Madison House residents joined in. Her name is Martha, and she is 103 years old.

My humble guess is that Martha thought we might benefit from some help, in our notes, in our keys, in our pitch. In further reflection I also realize that she understood that she was welcome to join us, to be a part of the song and its message, she felt comfortable contributing her gifts. There was a place for her, a space for her, a need for Martha.

Therein I see a parable for the church, for the community of faith. Parables rarely benefit from explanation, so I will leave it at that, with Martha at the piano, accompanying an off-key pastor.

A Blessed 202 to each of you.


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December: Renewed focus in Advent journey


Every morning I get multiple e-mail reminders from the Wellness Program of our health-insurance provider with the heading “You Have Journeys to Complete.” These are immensely irritating, especially when received in bunches – reminders of things left undone. They also can be helpful, in the way intended, to inspire me to be more attentive to the faith journey I am on.

Although I am usually one who more favors the journey than the destination, achieving goals along the way can be a helpful approach.

But “You Have Journeys to Complete” comes to mind with the many people connected with the Bethany community who have or are completing their earthly journeys. Jess Browning directly comes to mind, someone who “completed his journey well,” but also so many, too many to name, who are connected as family and friends in the Bethany congregation. These serve as reminders that we are each on a journey, the completion of which is the eternal embrace of God. In their memory, “You Have a Journey to complete” takes on a prayerful quality.

Advent is in itself a journey, and often with all the activities, obligations, and short duration it can feel like a program to “complete.” The destination: Christmas. The goal: To survive. But perhaps this year it can assume the spirit of a journey, an “Advent-sure,” a being “on the way.” Instead of a “Journey to Bethlehem,” perhaps a daily, renewed focus on prayer, on walking, on thankfulness, on hungering for justice. We are not accumulating points for completion (like the wellness program), but daily renewing our vigor for the journey. For the journey leads not to an end, but to the “Nativity of our Lord;” it culminates not in conclusion, but rather in the surprise of Immanuel, God with us.

Bless you on your Advent Journey.



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