What’s an Ultreya? part 2

In my last post, I wrote about what an ultreya is— in this post I’ll address what we actually do at an ultreya. Often the ultreya starts with some snacks (what would a Lutheran gathering be without food???). Then there is some singing. You may get a chance to hear (or request) your favorite weekend song. There are announcements about upcoming weekends and other matters of concern to the community. Then we have a speaker.

The speaker is someone who attended a weekend and is asked to share his or her struggles and successes in walking with Christ. The talk lasts about 15 minutes, and may deal with some aspect of piety, study or action (these are issues we discuss in our renewal groups). Hearing about what and how another Christian is doing helps me to make progress in my own faith walk and reminds me that I am not alone.

After the talks, the participants break into smaller groups and share a discussion question related to the talk. If a pastor is present, the meeting may end with communion and a brief worship service. Often we close with a circle prayer. Everyone is welcome to share their prayer concerns out loud, or silently in their hearts.

The ultreya gives me a sense of joy as I experience God’s presence and the love of a Christian community. It helps me to put my problems into perspective, and I feel peaceful, resting in God’s hand.

For more about Christian community see these posts:

John Stott on the Christian Community

Dietrich Bonhoeffer — What it Means to be in Christ as a Community

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Community of Saints

Life Together in Christ by Ruth Haley Barton–Book Review

Life Together in Christ provides a model for studying and experiencing community in a small group setting. Using the story of the Emmaus road as her format, author Ruth Barton leads her readers through 9 topics designed to further spiritual transformation. They are:

  1. Choosing to walk together
  2. Welcoming the stranger
  3. Choosing to listen
  4. Gathering on the basis of shared desire
  5. Men and Women in community
  6. The Spiritual journey
  7. Finding our story in His story
  8. Discerning the presence of Christ
  9. Being a witness

Sprinkled throughout are questions for personal reflection (good for journaling!) and at the end of each chapter are more questions and a prayer for group sharing. There are two appendices at the end which delve further into spiritual growth, community and the practice of stability. The author often relies on quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s well-known work, Life Together, to illustrate her points, so if you’re interested in Christian community, this is another well-respected book to read on that topic.

Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community (Transforming Resources) by [Ruth Haley Barton]

If you’re in a small group, or starting a small group, this would be an interesting choice to use. I agreed with most of what the author had to say, with the exception of her objection to single sex groups. There are certainly times and instances (in my opinion) when same sex groups are appropriate.


For other books that could be used in your small group see:

Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren–Book Review

When Words Matter Most by Cheryl Marshall & Caroline Newheiser–Book Review

Dangerous Surrender by Kay Warren–Book Review

John Stott on the Christian Community

“The invisible God, who once made himself visible in Christ, now makes himself visible in Christians, if we love one another.  God is love in his essential being, and has revealed his love in the gift of his Son to live and die for us  Now he calls us to be a community of love, loving each other in the intimacy of his family –especially across the barriers of age and sex, race and rank–and loving the world he loves in its alienation, hunger, poverty and pain.  It is through the quality of our loving that God makes himself visible today.  We cannot proclaim the gospel of God’s love with any degree of integrity if we do not exhibit it in our love for others.”

John Stott

For more posts about loving one another see:

Little Children, Love One Another

Love One Another

By Our Love




Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Creating Community

“The person who’s in love with their vision of community will destroy community.  But the person who loves the people around them will create community everywhere they go.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

For more Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes see these posts:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Community of Saints

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Church

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Brotherly Love (Philia)


The Snare is Broken part 2

Ancient Israel didn’t have an “I” society.  The people of that time saw everything through an “us” lens.  Their identities were tied not just to their own egos but to the people into which they had been born.  No Israelite would think of themselves as isolated individuals but as part of a nation chosen by the Lord Himself.  The Church, as the continuation of Israel, is meant to be the same.  We identify not only with the people of St. Paul’s or the AFLC (Association of Free Lutheran Churches), or Lutheranism, we also identify ourselves with all who trust in Jesus living today, as well as those who have gone before us and those who will come after us.

I saw recently that John McArthur, a well-known evangelical leader in this country is calling on us to not let our differences over non-essentials keep us from cooperating when we are dealing with issues not involving the fundamentals of the faith.  Of course we don’t want to associate or work together with those who deny those things which establish the boundaries of Christianity, but with all others we should be willing to go as far as we can without violating conscience.  That is part of being a true community, the true church.

As I mentioned earlier, David is listed as the author of Psalm 124.  It’s not certain when he wrote it.  It could have been when his son, Absalom, tried to take the throne from him.  I think it’s most likely, though, that it speaks of the Lord’s protection against some outside attacker, possibly the Philistines or the Amorites or the Moabites.  We just don’t know.  What we do know, though, is that the Lord delivered Israel, His chosen people from their enemy.

Whatever the enemy was, they would have swallowed up Israel alive.  You and I, indeed the Church as a whole, sometimes experience things which seem able to swallow us up alive.  Illness, financial problems, death, fear — all of these and more can at one time or another seem too big for us to deal with, too great for us to defeat, too overwhelming for us to even contemplate.

Stay tuned for more tomorrow …..


For part one of this sermon, go to this post:

The Snare is Broken part 1

A Sheep of Your Own Fold

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant.  Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive (him or her) into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.

I don’t know about other denominations, but if you are a Lutheran, you have probably heard this prayer at the graveside of many funerals.  Recently I’ve been reading a book entitled And Then We Grew Up by Rachel Friedman.  The author interviews a number of students who attended a music and arts camp for children, describing where they are today in the pursuit of their talent.  Almost all described that camp as a defining experience for them, a place where they were finally among others who “got” them, who understood their passion and their drive to develop it.  This was true whether they became professional musicians or not.

It occurs to me that we, as Christians, are “sheep of the same fold” and in gathering together we experience that same kind of comfort and acceptance.  In our congregation we are among others who, unlike the world, understand our desire to know and serve Christ.  It’s a place where, like the students, we learn discipline in practicing and using our abilities.  It’s a place where we join together in worship and teamwork.  It should be an experience that defines us, that we carry with us wherever we go and whatever we do.

The music camp was not without conflict.  There was rivalry and stress.  There were teachers who were encouraging and others who were not.  There were campers who were loved and some who were difficult.  But all those things were less important than the underlying and binding goal of becoming the best artists and musicians the students could be.

Is your congregation like that for you?  If not, it should be.  We share the same goal, we serve the same God;  we gather together to grow better in our efforts to become sanctified.  These are the people who “get” that.  We are sheep of the same fold.

For more on Rachel Friedman’s book go to this post:

Are You a Grown-Up?


And Speaking of Retreats …..

“To be on a Pilgrimage is to go through Christ to the Father under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, bringing others along with you.”

The quote above is on the first page of Pilgrim’s Guide which you will receive if you attend a Lutheran Via de Cristo Weekend.  While some retreats are quiet, maybe even silent, this one is very social.  There is singing, group discussion, and sometimes even skits and jokes.  It is definitely about Christian community and being with others.  If you’re an introvert like I am, it’s doesn’t seem particularly restful.

My husband and I made our original weekends in 1990.  Recently I was part of a group of cursillistas (this is the term for someone who has made a cursillo, or 3 day retreat of this kind — the movement originated in Spain and so many of the words used are Spanish) who showed up to help with a weekend retreat in progress.  I got to see some “significant others” from my past Christian walk, others who “came along with me.”

I’ve heard it said that every Christian needs a Paul (mentor), a Barnabas (peer/encourager) and a Timothy (someone to mentor) in their lives.  The first person I ran into was Doris — Doris is older than I am, and a Christian I have always admired her calmness, good judgement and maturity.  Definitely a Paul.  Then I saw Mary.  Mary and I are close to the same age, and our children grew up in the church together.  We shared so many experiences as we matured spiritually and became leaders in the congregation.  Mary is a Barnabas.  Finally, at the end of the evening, I got a hug from Amy, Mary’s daughter.  “My mentor” she exclaimed as we embraced.  Wow!  I never knew Amy thought of me that way.  I guess she’s my Timothy.

While helping with the weekend was not a traditional “rest” experience, it was rejuvenating to reconnect with others who have influenced my life, and who have been influenced by me. It’s a way of taking a break from the day to day and gaining some perspective by looking back.  We don’t always see what’s being accomplished while we’re in the midst of things, but God is always at work.  Whether you’re resting or relaxing, on retreat or celebrating the sabbath, remember to take someone along with you.  We’re not meant to journey alone.

For more on Via de Cristo see these posts:

Persevere Upward

A Prayer of Personal Dedication (Obedience)

My Via de Cristo Experience

Admonish One Another — A Quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  Life Together

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Community of Saints

“The community of the saints is not an ‘ideal’ community consisting of perfect and sinless men and women, where there is no need of further repentance. No, it is a community which proves that it is worthy of the gospel of forgiveness by constantly and sincerely proclaiming God’s forgiveness”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

If you have never read Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I highly recommend it as a realistic look at living in the Christian communion of saints.


Environment #1

This month I’ll be posting parts of a Lutheran Via de Cristo talk I gave about Environments.  This is the first installment.

It’s has been said, and rightly so, that the Christian life is not a destination, but a journey.  You might choose to think of it as a train trip.  Our first talk spoke about the importance of having an ideal.  It’s just crucial–think about it–you might be at the train station, but you can’t get on the right train if you don’t know where you’re headed.  As Christians, we want to head toward the life of grace, a conscious and growing life in Christ.  This means a lifelong process of reforming and transforming our lives as our will is conformed to His.  Talks about piety, study and action gave us some idea of how to do this through personal spiritual discipline.  Our last talk ,Leaders, presented a picture of the truly dynamic Christian as a leader.  This talk goes a step further because Jesus called us to follow Him, not only for our own salvation, but for the salvation of the world.  This is the true mission of the church.  It’s not enough to get on the right train and sit quietly reading our Bible until the journey ends.  It’s not enough to interact in a friendly and helpful manner with our fellow passengers. We must get off at every stop and invite others to come along with us.

There’s a very good book you might want to read sometime, called “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In this book, Bonhoeffer says that Christianity means community and the fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters is a gift of grace, pure grace.  Then he goes on to tell us that the Christian’s calling is not in the seclusion of a cloistered life, but in the midst of the world, even among enemies!  In the book of Matthew, Jesus instructed his disciples, saying:

“….you are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house ….Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

We can’t stay isolated in our churches and in groups of fellow Christians. We must go out — to our families, our workplaces, our communities –and radiate God’s love into our personal environments.