Sister Sara Says

Resources for ministry, and musings of a Deaconess.


Church Life

Wrong Place… Right Time?

3rd Sunday in Advent Isaiah 35:1-10

This passage doesn’t belong here. Isaiah is a fascinating book with rich poetry and history, and is generally split into at least two parts, possibly even three. The first part consists of a lot of warnings of what will happen to various rulers and kingdoms. Isaiah 34 is all about destruction. And then Isaiah 35 pops in.

It shouldn’t be here

It doesn’t go chronologically with the first part of Isaiah, it seems to be speaking to a people already in exile in Babylon, ready to return home. Its a poem of great hope and joy, perfect for Joy Sunday of Advent.

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom abundantly”

Isaiah 35:1-2

I think about God’s joy as something that is unable to be contained, it can’t even be contained in scripture! It breaks through where it isn’t supposed to be. Flowers in the desert. Pools instead of burning sand. A highway of joy and gladness where sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Where are you finding God’s joy breaking through? Where are the places where we have decided joy shouldn’t be, and yet we find it anyway? Keep watching in this season of waiting, for they joy that breaks through, in the wrong place at the right time

Keep Awake

1st Sunday in Advent, year B: Mark 13:24-37

We are in a time of waiting right now, and it unfortunately doesn’t have much to do with Advent, or the second coming of our Lord. It has to do with the pandemic. We are waiting to get a job back, or a new job to come. We are waiting for school to go back to normal. We are waiting to worship together indoors, without masks.

We are waiting.

But are we awake? Sometimes I feel like I’m just moving from one day to the next, not really being awake. I’m getting things done. Emails get sent. School work gets turned in. Meetings are attended. But I’m not sure I’m awake for all of it.

Mark’s gospel is the one synoptic Gospels, or gospels written from a similar point of view, but Mark skips the birth story, and focuses on the second coming of Jesus. Because the season of advent preparing for the birth of Jesus has already come, that was done long ago. Our season (or seasons) of advent are awaiting the coming of Christ again.

In Mark 13:37 the author says “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” What does keeping awake look like for you in this unprecedented season of Advent 2020? Perhaps it looks like focusing on your faith, through practices like reading scripture, prayer, or attending a Bible study. Perhaps it looks like taking care of yourself, making sure you are getting enough to eat and drink, and taking care of your health.

No matter how we keep awake this season, remember this. God promises to be with us. God came to be with us in the form of the baby Jesus so many years ago, walked with us, ministered with us, cried with us, died for us, and not even death kept him from us.

Therefore, God is with us in the waiting. Keep awake friends.

My 5

I need to write or I’m going to explode. I stepped away from writing for a while because I had a deadline, or I had CPE and I was driving back and forth to Birmingham and Jasper. Then it was quarantine and managing my depression. Any way you look at it I stepped away from a spiritual practice that I need, that my soul needs, and that the Holy Spirit is no longer allowing me to push aside.

I have a lot of things to say, many of which you don’t need to hear from me, so those things will wait. One thing I can speak to, no matter the social goings-on in the world, is Youth Ministry. I love youth and children, and I love working with them in the church. Its gives me life. I even love seeing their faces on Zoom, even when I have to mute them just to get a sentence out (also, my science-y people, let’s get to work on an IRL mute button for groups of children, teachers will thank you).

The Sticky Faith movement through Fuller youth institute uses Chap Clark’s recommendation to flip the youth to adult ratio in ministry. They assert that every youth needs 5 adults active in their lives to have a greater chance of staying with the church as an adult. You can read more about this here.

I’ve been nostalgic as of late for my home church, Good Shepherd Lutheran in Frederick Maryland. They are active on Facebook and I get to watch the really cool things they are doing, and keeping up with people from church that I grew up with has just caused me to think a lot about my 5 people. I had so many more than 5, for sure. People who did things before I ever got there laying the ground work for the community that would raise me in the faith.

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Frederick MD

People like Nancy Zeim, who changed names from mankind to human kind, and gender neutral language referring to God creating a space where we could recognize that perhaps male-centric language can be harmful, in the mid- 1980s, quietly blazing a trail for my feminist theologian self years later.

People like Rev. LaVern Rasmussen, who preached uncomfortable sermons about social justice while I was a tiny kiddo on the front pew. Who hugged me after service even though the man was not a hugger (who could refuse such a cute kiddo!)

Small Sara. I know I’m adorable.

People like Danny Tregoning who was the face (and voice, in the church bulletin) of church softball, the lifeblood of our fellowship every softball season. I watched little kids at those games, strengthened friendships, and felt loved by church family outside the walls of the building.

Or People like Ron Castle, who would see me, sometimes 3 times a week, at the Frederick Coffee Company while I was studying for college, and would say “Is that you?” When his health was failing years later, and I came home for a visit, he saw me at church and smiled and said “Is that you?” I treasure that.

I list those people because they aren’t even my 5, which goes to show how important adults are in the lives of young people.

My 5 (ish)

Jill and Mike Schaeffer

When I was baptized, my sponsors had to be members of the church, and I’m so glad they were. Jill and Mike were awesome God parents. I assumed that if my parents died I would go live with Jill and Mike (didn’t find out that was way off till I was a teenager!) I went to daycare with Jill, I went on vacation with them, and I learned a lot about being part of the life of the church from them. I learned that if you want council meetings to move along, you create a dynamic duo of motions and seconds with your God mother. I learned that music and worship were two sides of the same coin, singing in the choir with them, learning liturgical dance with their daughter, and listening to Mike sing solos and play guitar. They made sure I knew I was loved and that church was home.

My confirmation.

Pat and Gene Schoonover

Sometimes Pat scared me. I was worried if I forgot and wore tennis shoes as an acolyte she might say something about it, same goes for me messing up the order of something on altar guild. And maybe she did, but I don’t remember that. I know she liked things in good order, like any good Lutheran. I also know that she fought to resettle southeast Asian refugees, because God’s work isn’t just in the Sanctuary. She and Gene supported my efforts to host Compassion Sunday yearly as a teenager, encouraging families to sponsor children across the globe. And when I was a senior in high school and locked my keys in the car, I called the church, so I could get Gene’s number. While he couldn’t help me out for free, there was mysteriously a graduation card with the same amount of money as my locksmith fee waiting for me a few weeks later.

Phyllis Hane

Phyllis was my Sunday School teacher for… forever. I know we had some different ones when I was little, and then there was this long time span where I’m fairly certain no one else would teach us. There were 13 in my confirmation class, that was a lot for our small-ish church. Afterwards the number dropped, as it does many places, but Phyllis never gave up on our Sunday school class, even when it might just be me and her daughters. She was also my altar guild partner, who taught me why we do what we do, and that you can drink the wine after communion, but its 9 am, so maybe pouring it down the special drain that ran outside was a better call.

Marilyn Ayers

Marilyn used to run the Christian education stuff that other people might prefer she forgot. Like VBS, or Summer Sunday School, and the Christmas Pageant. She had some awesome red hair and if you saw her coming, you looked for a quick exit before she could ask you to do something. But she was patient, and she’d find you eventually, which is how I ended up teaching 3 and 4 year old VBS, or singing a song in the children’s Christmas Pageant at 16 (don’t get me wrong, I stole the show, but I was the oldest by like… a lot). Sometimes I channel my inner Marilyn now as a Children’s and Youth minister when I’m recruiting volunteers. I haven’t made the jump to awesome red hair yet, my purple bangs will have to suffice.

Rev. Ron Reaves

I would be missing out on possibly the biggest influence on my life at Good Shepherd if Pastor Ron wasn’t in my 5. Pastor Ron was called to Good Shepherd when I was 11. I loved Church as a kid, and as a teenager. I loved being an acolyte, assisting minister, lector, all of it. I even liked being on council. I loved confirmation. My time with Pastor Ron in confirmation was some of my favorite time spent at GS. But it didn’t stop there. Trips to Germany, Lancaster PA Sight and Sound theater, church picnics and puppet shows with Fozzie Pastor Bear and Kermit the Lutheran Frog, halloween parties and his red plaid pants you could count on him wearing for Pentecost, all of that was part of the life of the church with Pastor Ron. I didn’t know other churches had a staff, because in my little church Pastor Ron and Pastor Gary were it for what we would call a programming staff.

He was my children’s, tween, and youth, and young adult minister. He encouraged my call to ministry, taking me to his old stomping grounds of Gettysburg college and seminary (now United Lutheran Seminary). He let me see that grown ups sometimes changed their minds on things they believed all their lives, and was there for me in times of “crisis” like when I was in a hit and run at community college and I didn’t know what to do so I drove to church to have Pastor Ron tell me what to do.

Not all Pastors can be in someone’s 5 adults. Most have too many kids in their congregation to reasonably do that. I’m glad my pastor was in my 5.

I know there are people in my congregation I didn’t list, and I could tell stories for days, and that’s what I encourage you to do. Tell stories. Who were your 5 people? What were they like? What did you do? What did they teach you?

And who’s 5 are you a part of? Make memories, take a chance, be 1 of 5, or 500, there are never too many loving grownups in the life of a kid!

And YOU Shall Name Him Jesus

4th Sunday of Advent Year A, Matthew 1:18-25.

Many of us are pretty familiar with the story of the Holy Family by now. The story of angelic pronouncements, decisions to be made, and a new family formed. One character in this familial tale that sometimes gets glossed over is that of Joseph.

We know about how righteous Joseph was, that he married Mary anyway, and that he was a carpenter. But an often overlooked part of the story is this.

1:21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus

Joseph names the infant Messiah Jesus. This might seem strange to us, but under the law, Joseph naming Jesus meant he claimed him. He was legally his child. Joseph was claiming Jesus as his own. This is huge.

He didn’t have to do this. He could have gone on with his plan to let Mary go quietly, and his reputation would have stayed in tact. But people would talk, and I’m sure they talked plenty. They would guess that this child wasn’t really his, but he claimed him anyway.

What a message of grace and love from such an overlooked character! To take a child and claim him as his own. Sounds a lot like what happens to us in baptism. God names us and claims us as God’s own. We can learn a lot from Joseph, the father of Christ.


Not What We Expected

Third Sunday of Advent year C Matthew 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Matthew 11:2-3

Have you ever been really excited for something, and then when it happened, it didn’t really live up to the hype? I’m sure we all have, at least I know I’ve seen at least one movie that should have been great and I’m pretty sure was a total dud.

But at least I wasn’t the one in the wilderness shouting “Prepare ye the way of this highly anticipated movie”. But that’s what John the Baptist had been doing. He had been preparing everyone for the coming of the Messiah. The person who could come and topple the corrupt government and would usher in the Kingdom of God.

And yet John sits in jail. Jesus didn’t come out of that baptismal water and immediately jump on a white horse and bring the Romans to their knees. In fact, he wasn’t at all what they expected.

And isn’t that the way of it?

We are prepared for happiness, and sometimes we are called to some unhappy places.

We are prepared for love, and sometimes the ones we love were not the ones we were meant to be with forever.

We are prepared for success, and sometimes we help others succeed instead.

We are prepared for royalty and all of its fanfare, and yet this is the season where we meet our savior in the most humble of places.

And even though we know the story, and we know why this baby in a manger is so important, we are still sometimes like John, wondering if this Jesus is really what we were expecting. Does Jesus really ask us to love our neighbor? And is our neighbor really everyone? Does Jesus really challenge those in power and raise up those who are weak?

And we know the answer is yes. We know that Jesus is all that and so much more. So, in this season of Advent, let us shake loose our expectations, so that the unexpected Jesus can surprise us once again.

Justice for the Poor

2nd Sunday in Advent Psalm 72:1-7 18,19 (Photo of Sister Ramona Navarro and Candidate Katie Thiesen at a protest in Washington DC)

72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

Our culture has taught us to get really caught up on certain aspects of faith. I’m not even going to name them, because you know what they are. They are the political hot points. The things that make the news. The things that get people so fired up they are willing to unfriend church folk over it.

But you know what scripture talks about hundreds of times, almost as if God and Jesus were really serious about it? The poor. We are to care for the poor and the needy. We are to see to the needs of the widow, orphan, and prisoner.

Sometimes it feels like we’ve lost that fire to do something about poverty in our world. We’ve been fed a lie about why people are poor, and that they need to stay that way. I don’t believe that’s true. I echo the cry of the psalmist in our scripture for this week, that our leaders might champion the cause of the poor, and seek justice for the oppressed.

In 2022 I completed my journey to become a Sister in the Deaconess Community of the ELCA . I am blessed to be a part of this intentional community of women who have worked for more than a century in serving those in need. At our 2019 assembly, pre pandemic, the Deaconess Community voted to endorse the Poor People’s Campaign in an effort to do more to effect change in our world.

I have been blessed and challenged by the work of the Poor People’s Campaign. I participate when I can, through advocacy in my local area, and support Sisters who attend protests and marches in support of our siblings in poverty.

So how will you champion the cause of the poor among us? I hope its through checking out what your local Poor People’s Campaign is doing and serving the cause. But if not, do something. Advent is about waiting, but the poor can’t wait forever.

Do Unto Others

All Saints Day Luke 6:20-31

There are lots of blessings and woes in this passage. And all of them make us a little squirmy. A seminary cohort of mine used to start sentences with “deep down in my icky dark core…”. This is one of those deep down in my icky dark core moments in scripture for me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want those who hate me to be blessed

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want to pray for those who abuse me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want to think about the fact that I might be counted among the “rich” of this world, even in the times I struggle to make ends meet.

Deep down in my icky dark core I crave the approval of people, I need everyone to speak well of me, even when I know my call should cause people to feel a little uncomfortable and to even disagree with me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

But the Good News is it isn’t about me. Its never about me. Its about God, and I’m not God, and praise be for that! I need to remember that my sinful self regularly needs grace and forgiveness, and to be reminded, even with scripture that hits my icky dark core that others need grace and forgiveness too.

So I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep trying to honor the parts of scripture that hit my sinful self hard, to honor others as images of God, and to do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

Remember Our Sins No More

This week the Old Testament reading for the Lectionary Text comes from Jeremiah 31:31-34, for Reformation Sunday. I love Reformation Sunday. It gives me a reason to wear my Pentecost pants a 2nd time (a habit I picked up from my childhood pastor, although to be honest, not sure where those pants are since I’ve moved, so I guess it’ll just be Pentecost/Reformation Chacos)

As Lutherans we talk about the Law and the Gospel a lot. A. Lot. We’ve often err on the side of writing off the Old Testament reading some Sundays as irrelevant because of the Gospel, but I love this one.

I love it because God is making promises to God’s people. The people who continue to screw up. The people who can’t quite seem to get it right. The people who fail. Sound familiar?

God not only promises to “forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more”. Remember our sins no more. Think about the magnitude of that statement.

We can forgive sin, we know we aren’t perfect and we all sin, and we are supposed to forgive each other, but can we forget each other’s sin? Sometimes I think that’s hard for us as humans, because we can choose to forgive, but we often can’t help remembering. Maybe it has something to do with our survival instincts. We remember what hurt us so we can try to avoid it and not be hurt again.

Then I think about the people I’m closest to. My family, friends from childhood, people I’ve walked through Hell with. Those people have hurt me. I’m sure they’ve hurt me more times than I can count. But I’m not sure I remember all of those times, because we choose love. We choose relationship.

That’s what’s so exciting about this Old Testament reading. God chooses God’s people. The people don’t choose God. That would be too easy and too fleeting. But God chooses us, and God (with Her infinite memory) chooses to remember our sins no more.

That sounds an awful lot like Good News.

Peace be with you.

Justice Seekers – Sermon 10/20

Justice Seeking God, we worship today on the land of the Muscogee people, on a land which has a complicated and rich history. We pray for forgiveness for the sins of the past, and for your justice and mercy for all of your creation. -Amen

I hope everyone has had a chance to look over the bulletin inserts that detail just a little bit of the history of what is now the Deaconess Community of the ELCA

As some of you may already know I am in the candidacy process for the ministry of word and service which means when I am ordained I will be a deacon, or a minister of word and service. What you may not know is that I am also joining an intentional community of women known as the Deaconesses, which means I will also be a Sister. Deaconesses are women who also serve as Deacons in the ELCA, who are set apart for a ministry of word and service and live in intentional community.

The vision of the community is as follows. Compelled by the love of Christ and sustained by community, the Deaconess Community of the ELCA works for justice and flourishing for all of God’s creation.

When Pastor asked if I would preach this week, and I looked at the text, the widow and the unrighteous judge, I couldn’t think of a better time to share just a little bit of what I’ve experienced through my time with the Sisters and other candidates, especially when it comes to working for justice, and the flourishing of all of God’s creation.

The widow in our parable today is demanding the justice she knows she deserves from a judge who neither fears God nor respects people. I wish this didn’t sound so familiar. I wish we lived in a time and place where everyone felt like the justice owed to them was delivered. 

But since we aren’t there yet, I thought maybe some stories of modern day justice seekers might be a good illumination of the Good news of today’s text. 

I wish you could all meet Sister Jane. I wish you could sit with her and listen to her tell stories about her hilarious encounters the police over ending up in the middle of a Nevada highway at night with no headlights on because it was a rental car and they couldn’t figure out where the lights were! I wish you could hear Sister Carol tell the story about how, while Sister Jane was a cottage mother in a group home for teenage boys, she crawled under the fence of a neighbor’s garden, to steal his rabbit traps, because her heart is so big she couldn’t stand the thought of those poor bunnies being hurt.

But its her love for the first nation people of Canada that I really wish you could hear. Sister Jane married a member of a tribe in Canada, and saw the effects that residential schools had on people into their adult lives. She recalls trying to get people to understand the abuse that was happening to the children in residential schools 50 years ago, and no one would listen to her. When I spoke with her this week asking about her experience, she said “I thought this must have been how people felt in Nazi Germany, trying to get people to know what was happening. Because I kept telling people, and no one would listen”

But that never stopped Sister Jane. She became a foster parent and teacher in her community. One day some of the boys, including her foster son were trespassing on city property, and were asked to leave. Obviously that was fine, to ask a group of children to leave a place they shouldn’t be anyway. But the city employees decided to verbally and physically abuse some of the boys, slapping one across the face and knocking his glasses to the ground.

When Sister Jane found out, well you can imagine she was probably something like that widow in our parable today, all fired up. She told her husband, and some of the other foster parents what had happened, and she was met with a chorus of “Jane, this is just the way it is” 

Sister Jane refused to accept what those around her had become accustomed to after generations of abuse. She called the police, and explained what happened to the boys. The police officer acknowledged that she was right, agreed to talk to the city employees, and went and checked on the boys. He appreciated her willingness to reach out, especially for one of the boys, the boy whose glasses had been knocked off his face. 

That boy came from a family who was in trouble with the law quite a bit. He rarely saw police officers in a positive light. The police officer went to check on him, to make sure he was alright, to tell him that what happened to him was not ok, and to let him know the officer cared. When the officer spoke with Sister Jane again he told her that if she hadn’t called, that boy might never have known there was a police officer who cared about him. 

Demanding justice often comes at a price. We know that civil rights leaders in this country, demanding justice for people of color, have been abused, injured, and assassinated. Right before Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968 he launched what he called the Poor People’s Campaign. He believed that rallying the poor of the country to affect real change was the only way we were going to see moral revival. With the death of both Dr King and Robert Kennedy the movement slowed and stalled, but has been revived in recent years. 

I know about this revival because of my fellow candidate Katie. Katie lives in Bangor Maine where she is a Hospice Social Worker. She became involved with the Poor People’s Campaign about two years ago, and I have watched her be transformed as one who demands justice. 

As we walk with the community through our rite of accompaniment we are part of the community in all aspects including having a voice but not a vote until we are no longer candidates. That also means we can’t bring resolutions forth before the community for a vote. So when Katie wanted the Deaconess Community to endorse the Poor People’s Campaign, she found other sisters willing to write the resolution with her, and bring it before the community. She educated the sisters via social media before we gathered for our Annual assembly and made sure she had the chance for many one on one conversations about her passions. Because of her persistence, the Deaconess Community of the ELCA endorses the Poor People’s Campaign, and plans to work with our local movements and leaders to affect change where we live.

These stories are great, but we are people of the word first and foremost, and the reason these justice demanding women can fulfill the call on their lives is ultimately because we worship a God who we know hears us. We know it because Jesus says it, right here in this parable. He told them this parable so they would not cease to pray to God and not lose hope. Because if even unrighteous judges will relent, how much More does God love God’s children?

That my friends is a message of hope in a world full of unrighteous judges. That we worship the God who spoke messages of hope and justice through the prophets. The God who came down to earth as Jesus delivered a message of justice that no one was expecting. A message that spoke of justice and mercy for the most marginalized, for the unwanted and the unloved. 

Children of God that is the call of a deacon. Those of us who serve as those first deacons served in Acts chapter 6 when the Apostles realized that someone needed to look after the neglected Greek speaking widows. Part of the call of a deacon is to speak publicly in the world in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming Gods love for the world. We also advocate a ministry of word and service that commits itself to risk taking and innovative service on the frontiers of the church’s outreach. 

It means we serve and stand alongside our siblings of color who are afraid of the very people tasked to protect them. It means we work to dismantle systems that keep children in cages because their family wanted a better life for them. It means we are radically welcoming to our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community. And it means others don’t always agree with us, but we keep loving anyway, we keep preaching the word anyway, and we keep serving anyway, just like our great example of diakonia, or ministry of word and service, Jesus.

Finally I want to tell you about probably the most important Sister in my life. Sister Gladys Reidenour. Sister Gladys was a dancer. Such a good dancer, in fact, that her instructor told her mother she should make it on Broadway. But her mother never told her that. She did tell Gladys that she couldn’t afford to keep dancing. So the holy spirit had another plan for her life. 

Sister Gladys graduated with a BS in Nursing and was consecrated as a deaconess in the 1950s. She was a member of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Pottstown Pennsylvania. While serving as a deaconess she was called by the foreign mission board to serve as a missionary in Malaysia and Singapore, helping to found the fledgling Lutheran church that began there in the 50s. She responded to the call and worked as a medical missionary as well as the administrator of childcare programs at Good Shepherd Lutheran outside Kuala Lampour. She was Emmanuel Lutheran’s first missionary in its 200 year history, in a time when women couldn’t yet serve as Word and Sacrament pastors she left everything she knew to serve the least of these halfway around the world. 

She ultimately returned to the states and served as a parish deaconess for Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Baltimore, running a childcare facility for the church. You may wonder why this sister, who unfortunately passed away in 2013, almost 5 years before I would be accompanied by the community, is the most important Sister in my life. 

I was born in Frederick Maryland, about an hour outside of Baltimore, the daughter of a Baptist mother a father with no religious affiliation, who had yet to find a church home about a year after I was born. One day, as my mother would describe it to me years later, a Lutheran Nun knocked on their door. Her name, was Sister Gladys. She had been asked to come up to Frederick and invite families to attend Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, a congregation who had experienced a split and was reaching out to the community.

Sister Gladys knocked on 500 doors, and I was baptized, and 12 years later confirmed at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Frederick Maryland, the place that showed me my call to diaconal ministry. My mother recalls that of the 500 houses that Sister Gladys visited, only one resulted in a family visiting Good Shepherd, my family. I don’t know which door we were, number 5 or number 495, but I’m so glad she didn’t stop knocking. 

You have a calling brothers and sisters, and through prayer and relationships within the body of Christ, and the movement of the holy spirit I pray that you are strengthened to live out that call and to keep demanding justice. Keep knocking friends. Keep knocking.

Blog at

Up ↑