Joy in the Harvest


Joy in the Harvest

It was 10:45 in the morning but the room was dark. The shades were drawn. The man on the bed looked old, shriveled up, a husk of his old vibrant self. And yet… I knew what to do.

“Bob! I called out as I shook him gently. It’s time to worship! I’ve come to take you.” Bob opened his eyes. They were sad… distant…he shook his head no.

Bob suffers from depression – and it looked like the dark forces of depression had sunk him deep into his bed.

But I had seen this before… and I knew that – at least for Bob – there was a cure…or at least powerful relief from the pain.

I’ve been visiting Bob at St. Therese for years. A few years ago he confessed to me: “When you first came, I voted against you because I didn’t think women could be pastors. But now… you are my pastor.” Bob has become my biggest fan. And so … I said to him with a straight face, “But Bob… you have to come. I’m preaching.”

At that, Bob slowly got up… and let me guide him into his wheelchair, bend down and put his shoes on him (I’d forgotten his shoes the last time and embarrassed him completely) and wheel him into worship. Half an hour later, Bob was beaming. The forces of evil of his depression were beaten down by the power of the Gospel – and he was set free.

Jesus told his disciples, “As you go, proclaim the good news, "The kingdom of heaven has come near.' “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”

Jesus admonition to his disciples sounds impossible for our day. We send our sick and lepers, those with physical ailments, to medical doctors. We don’t talk much about “casting out demons” or raising the dead in our culture. And yet… isn’t that what happened to Bob? He was lying there – dead to the world and shrouded in his depression. But the Good News of Jesus broke through.

And Bob is not the only one. I visited Alice recently and gave her a prayer shawl. She snuggled into it and said, “Oh thank you… this is just what I need.” Alice’s memory is fading – and so in the middle of the conversation she said to me… “This is so nice – I love this – I don’t want to give it back.” Again, I explained that the prayer shawl was our gift to her – that the woman who made the prayer shawl was praying as she crocheted and that as she wore the shawl around her shoulders it was like the congregation surrounding her in prayer. “Really?” she asked. “Really.” I said. And then… as I was leaving, she said, “I suppose you want this shawl back” – hugging it close to her body. Again, I said, no, it is our gift to you. And she smiled. The Good News of God’s love breaks through with prayer –sometimes in small stitches.

Jesus commissions us – sends us out -- to bear witness to God’s love. Sometimes it seems so ordinary – a helping hand with a garden, giving a ride to a neighbor, babysitting, bringing a meal to someone. But we do these ordinary acts of love because we have first received Christ’s love. And it is because we know God’s love for us, we can share that love -- and we dare to have hope – despite whatever challenges surround us.

And there are challenges in our lives and in our world. A friend of mine said that he has stopped watching the news at night because he can’t sleep if he does. More than once have I been reminded of the old curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

When Paul writes to the Romans, they were in “Interesting times” too – and they were despairing. And yet, Paul urges them not to despair. Instead, he challenges them to dare to hope.

In what seems like an odd progression Paul writes, “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

It’s not that Paul was urging them to suffer. Suffering comes without our seeking it. We are human after all. But Paul reminds us that we can grow in faith through the challenges of life because life’s challenges, especially those times in which we are not in control, can remind us to trust in God and not ourselves. Paul reminds us that we can dare to hope, a hope that “does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit”

That’s why we can endure the pain and suffering of this world. That’s why, whatever challenges life throws our way – whether of our own doing or someone else’s, we dare to hope. Because we know the end of the story: God’s love wins. People today often call the ability to keep going despite challenges in our life: resilience. But it’s more than that – it’s resilience based on the knowledge that Jesus Christ is with you and the body of Christ is with you too.

If I have learned anything about the Christian life – it’s that it is not an independent enterprise. Faith is not something that is between me and Jesus. Instead, faith comes through the body of Christ – the community of Christ that gathers to eat together, to take wine and bread together, to worship, to pray, to knit prayers together, to care for one another.

Jesus sends us as laborers in the harvest – together. Have you ever gone out to pick strawberries or blackberries? When I was just a little girl – I would go out with my family. Pick a few…eat a few… It was a delicious enterprise – but even though I missed a lot, even as a little girl I was amazed how soon my basket would be overflowing. We often discount our own gifts and our own ability to be witnesses for Christ. We – at least I – sometimes beat myself up for not being a better witness. But being a witness for Christ is not just about us and our efforts– it’s a family affair – the body of Christ working together and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us. Never discount the power of the Holy Spirit.

As I was preparing for today I ran across a blog by a fellow pastor-poet, Steve Garnaas Holmes, who suggested:

Maybe the harvest is not bringing people to Christ
but gathering the fruits of the Spirit God has sown in you
for the sake of the world.
Maybe it's not an act of taking,…but receiving.
The harvest is plentiful but few are the people who have gathered,who have received the gifts, the grace,
the love growing in your heart, and feasted on those fruits
to be strengthened to go out and heal the wounded,
and be good news for the broken of the world.
The field stretches to the horizon.
There are more trees in this orchard than stars in heaven.

What grace have you not yet harvested?
Go into that good harvest.
Here is a basket for your labors. Go. 1

Brothers and sisters in Christ, may your basket overflow with the gifts of God. And then… just like a basket of just picked strawberries – it’s better shared. And so bask in the love of Christ that God has poured out into your heart and share this gift of grace in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
June 18, 2017

1 "Harvest" Steve Garnaas-Holmes



Gospel Text: Matthew 28:16-20

Dear friends in Christ, Grace and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!

    So, today's Gospel lesson comes from the last chapter in Matthew's Gospel. Now, if you're going to finish a lesson or a letter, you want to be able to tell the people at the end “now go do this.” Assuming that they've been listening, the “now go do this” will be what you have been teaching them to do. In today's lesson, we have a sort of graduation for the disciples. Now, Jesus is giving them a graduation speech, and telling them what to do next. So let's take a look.

    Now, after Jesus had been raised from the dead, the disciples were called to Galilee to have a meeting with Jesus. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. Don't worry, Thomas, you're not the only disciple who doubted. Jesus came to them and told them that all authority on heaven and on earth had been granted to him. Because of this, the disciples were to go to all nations, baptize them, and teach them to obey everything that Jesus had commanded them. Also, remember, Jesus is with them, to the end of time.

    Now, earlier, I mentioned that this was a graduation ceremony for these disciples. And while they didn't have caps and gowns, they did have a good speech to send them on their way.  Now, Jesus had spent three years with his disciples, and they got to see and hear it all. When Jesus did miracles, they were there. When Jesus taught, they were there. And when Jesus died and rose again, you'd better believe that they were there. And standing here now in Jesus's presence, they again see the mystery and the power of Christ, now fully incarnate standing before them. And so, Jesus, having all the authority of heaven and earth, gave power and responsibility to the disciples to go and create the church. Now, the church that we have today is due to a number of changes, disagreements, and reformations. But that is the nature of the church, constantly changing to better help the needs of our neighbor, and to serve as God's hands and feet in the world.

    Now, while this was a graduation speech for the disciples, it's also a message for all of us today. This morning, we celebrate Trinity Sunday, the Sunday in which we celebrate the three persons of the Trinity, that is: God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer.  Now, if you were to be asked on a test how it is that God is both three parts as well as one whole God, the correct answer would be “I don't know.” It's okay to say that there are some things about God that we do not know yet. That is okay. But if you want to know the history of our faith, past, present, and future, look at the trinity:

    In our children's message this morning, we heard about God the Creator, and the wondrous acts that God did in creating the world. In six days, the world and everything in it was created, and on the seventh day, God rested. But because sin entered the world, all of humanity is suffering. We can see the effects of sin happening all over the world, in every heartache and tragedy. But God created a way for us to not only understand God better, but also as a way for us to live eternally, and that way is through belief in Jesus Christ. Christ came to the world to redeem humanity, and through his sacrifice and death on the cross, and resurrection, God made all things new. And after his resurrection, God gave us another advocate, which is the holy spirit, to help guide us and keep us connected to God. It is through this Holy Spirit that we can come to know everything that God has done for us in Jesus, and that we can continue to pass the blessing on to others. So there we have it. In the past, God created and everything in it. In the present, we bring Christ's message of hope and salvation to those around us. And in the future, the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us and the church as a whole in the work of God.

    Dear friends in Christ, today's lesson is a graduation for all believers. Jesus Christ, who has been given all authority, has given us the call to go out into the world, to make disciples of all nations, and to teach them to observe everything that God has commanded us. Because of who God is, we can be who we are. Now, like a school class about to graduate, do we know everything? Certainly not! But we do know what we need to know. We know that God so loved the world, that God gave us Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit now dwells within us. And we know that God has commanded us to love God above all else, and God has commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. So, here is your commission. Go. Make disciples of all nations. Teach them to love, as you have been loved. Keep coming back to church to learn more, and to be in community with others. Keep praying for others. Pray, read the bible, and continue to grow.

And so, graduating class of Eternity, it is by Jesus Christ, from whom all authority comes, that you are able to be these people in the world. Go in peace, thanks be to God. Amen.


The Holy Spirit is still showing up!


The Holy Spirit is still showing up!

 in surprising ways… and in ordinary ways… 

Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost was a harvest festival day. Jerusalem was full of people from all over, pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem to worship. But Jesus followers – a group of believers of about 120 people - about our size – were by themselves… gathered together.

It started out as an ordinary harvest festival day except that this time…all over the city people heard the sound of a strong wind, a gale force – a tornado – and they ran to see what was making this noise. And when the people arrived they heard Jesus’ followers – mostly Galileans – speaking their language and telling about the glory of God. And they all wondered…how could this be?

The Holy Spirit made quite an entrance on that first Pentecost. The sound of a wild tornado made people look. And then they listened. And then they heard the good news.

The Holy Spirit is still showing up in our world and in our lives today--- sometimes in surprising ways – and sometimes in more ordinary ways.

The Holy Spirit was present this past week in Portland, Oregon. I don’t know if you heard the story, but on a busy commuter train in Portland, a man whose last name, unfortunately, was “Christian” began to shout racial slurs at two young women, one of whom was Muslim and was wearing a hijab.

In response to this hateful speech, three men – a college grad, an army veteran and a poet got up to intervene. Two of them, the 23 year old recent college graduate, Namkai Meche and the army veteran, Rick Best, were stabbed to death. The third man, Micah Fletcher, the poet, is still in the hospital after suffering serious injuries.

Why did they act? In another context, the army veteran Rick Best said to a reporter "I can't stand by and do nothing." I think that that statement was true for all three. In the moment of seeing a man bully, taunt and threaten two young women, these three men stood up against the evil. They acted out of their convictions.

Was this the work of the Holy Spirit? I think so. As Paul writes, “There are varieties of activities but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Both of the men who died were reported to be men of faith – one a Catholic and the other’s faith was not named. But whether or not these men proclaimed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior in their faith life, they acted as Good Samaritans. And, if you remember the Good Samaritan story, Jesus doesn’t mention anything about how the Samaritan worships. He only tells the story of how the Samaritan – the person least expected to respond with love and care – was the one who responds to the need at the side of the road.

Their action got a lot of attention. Sometimes the work of the Holy Spirit is dramatic – and causes people to do something that is so out of the ordinary that it makes others take note.

But this is not the only way that the Holy Spirit works. The Holy Spirit was also active as one of our members recently took another person to Lutheran Social Services to get help writing a resume. The Holy Spirit was present as the faithful gathered to send Bill Kranz home to the Lord and gathered to celebrate with Nicole on her graduation celebration yesterday.

The Holy Spirit was present when I called Catholic Charities this past week asking for help for a friend. There were a lot of reasons that I can’t share publicly that I did not think that they would want to help me – or my friend. But I called anyway. A woman named Marie answered the phone. She had a lovely voice. I said, you probably don’t want to help me but… and I rattled off three or four reasons why they wouldn’t want to help. I was expecting her to say no. And yet, Marie batted down every reason I gave for why she wouldn’t want to help my friend. In short, the Holy Spirit prevailed. In the end, all I could say was, “Thank you.”

The Holy Spirit is alive and well and active among us. Some of you bake loaves of bread, bars and bundt cakes to share. Others deliver a meal to a neighbor in need – or through Dinner at your Door. Others have opened up their home. The list goes on.

Sometimes I think we simply neglect to name and claim the work of the Holy Spirit. But naming and claiming the work of the Holy Spirit is important – because otherwise it will just be dismissed or mis-characterized.

That’s what happened on that Pentecost day in Acts. People noticed the wind. They heard the good news spoken in their own language. But not all of them were ready to believe. No, they were ready to sneer – and assume that this unusual behavior was because they were drunk on cheap wine.

I always thought that this was just bad sarcastic behavior of unbelievers. But it turns out that there was a religious group at the time that did get drunk on cheap wine and worked themselves into a frenzy – and claimed that it was the power of God. This is why Peter had to stand up and debunk the false stories. He had to explain that the people were not drunk – but that the Holy Spirit had come.

And that is why people today have to stand up to evil too. We do not want to be identified with people who call themselves Christian or who are named Christian - yet who don’t act like it.

At the Synod Assembly last month, Assistant to the Bishop Deb Stehlen said that Christians need to be unafraid to look weird. Because if we don’t sound and act differently than the rest of the world, who would notice? What would be compelling about being Christian if it doesn’t make a difference in our lives? She encouraged us take Sabbath seriously. Listen to the Word of God. Pray. And then…Act on our convictions. That’s when people will take notice. That’s when they listen -- because something different is going on. Just like at Pentecost – people noticed something different was happening. And then they listened.

It isn’t always going to be easy. It wasn’t easy for the three men in Portland. Micah Fletcher, the poet who survived reflected,

"I am alive,

I spat in the eye of hate and lived.

This is what we must do for one another

We must live for one another

We must fight for one another

We must die in the name of freedom if we have to.

Luckily it's not my turn today"


Fletcher challenges us to stand up against hate – and for our neighbor. And that is what we, as Christians, are called to do every day: Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Share the good news.

But we cannot and should not try to do it alone. We are not called to be super heroes. We, as the body of Christ, are called to follow Jesus. And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to walk beside us, to lead and guide us to help us act with love –and not hate. And like Peter, we have to tell people why we act with love and kindness. It’s not just because we are good people. It is because the Holy Spirit is alive and well and working through us. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Last Words… and Prayers


Last Words… and Prayers

Last words. We tend to pay attention to “last words.” Martin Luther’s last words were: “We are all beggars” – a memorable reminder that regardless of what we have “accomplished” or what we want to claim as our legacy - we are all creatures in need of God’s grace.

In “The Last Lecture,” Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Melion professor who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at an early age with a young family gave his last lecture on: “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. At the end of his inspiring lecture, he told the overflowing cheering crowd – thank you but… I did it for my kids.

That’s kid of what Jesus says too. Our Gospel today sounds like a really complex, hard to access last lecture, full of words of glory and accomplishment and language about Jesus’ relationship with the Father – and today’s reading is just a small segment of it. But... it’s actually not a lecture at all; it’s a prayer. And.. it’s not for all the world – although Jesus’ message is for the whole world. But, in these last words, his last prayer, Jesus tells his followers: this is for you.

This prayer is for you. That’s not to lift us up as the few and the chosen. Christ’s gift is for all and we - as Luther said, “are all beggars”. But.. friends.... faithful followers who come to church even on a holiday weekend, Jesus is telling his followers - take heart. Do not be discouraged. Jesus is praying for you.

Jesus knows that, like his disciples, we too fall short of being the people and the church that God wants us to be. We aren’t one in purpose, one in mission or one in Christ. We experience division across denominations. We experience division across political, social, economical, racial lines – lines that we keep drawing. Jesus knows that it isn’t always easy to be the church – or to be followers.

But Jesus doesn’t draw lines. Instead, Jesus prays. And, from my experience, prayer leads to action. First, prayer changes the pray-er. And then…Prayer makes a difference – sometimes changing the situation in ways that we hope and sometimes in ways that we do not expect.

So what is prayer? Prayer is about talking with God – not to share information, after all, God knows the information already. Instead, prayer is about us – as pray-ers -- trusting God with what is on our hearts.

Jesus models praying what’s on his heart in the other Gospels when, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prays to God to take this cup from him. But in John, Jesus models praying for someone else – by praying for us. Praying for another – and being willing to let someone pray for you -- means trusting another part of the body of Christ with what is on your heart. And that means being a little bit vulnerable.

I could talk about prayer – and why we should do it and how we can do it for a long time. But I won’t. Because in these “last words” Jesus isn’t talking about prayer - Jesus simply prays.

Rolf Jacobson, a professor at Luther Seminary, discovered that while his church assigned prayer partners – and they had the partners meet – the church never modeled how to pray. So at a class that he team-taught with another professor, they began to start each class by praying for one another. In their evaluations of the class at the end of the semester, students said that watching someone pray helped them to learn to pray.

If this is the case for seminary students? I wondered if it wasn’t also the case for other Christians. Some of you are very experienced pray- ers – and I give thanks for your prayers. But others might feel intimidated by prayer – especially praying “out loud.” And so… I’ve asked James if he and I could pray for one another today. We are going to use the same format that we ask our Confirmation and youth students to use – share a high and a low – and then pray for each other. So.. James, would you come forward? (Prayer)









Now… it’s your turn. Please turn to a friendly looking neighbor in the pew –you may have to move just a little bit if you aren’t sitting close – or group up into threes. There’s a piece of paper in your bulletin if you want to write it down – but you don’t have to…

Please share with one another – One “high” – something that makes you glad, something for which you thank God today and One “Low” – something that you are sad or anxious about or something for which you are asking God to give help or healing. I will watch the time so don’t worry about that – just share something quickly and then pray for one another as you saw me and James do. Ready.. or not… GO!.....

Thank you for being the body of Christ – praying for one another. I invite you to continue to pray for the person that you talked with throughout the week.

And now, let us pray together: Lord Jesus, thank you for praying for us and for teaching us to pray.. Help us to be the body of Christ - praying for and caring for one another just as you pray for and care for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Today Is a Great Day for a Great Run


Today Is a Great Day for a Great Run

Text: John 14:15-21

Peace and Grace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!

    We are in the season of Easter, in which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, and the life that he gives all of us. Now, today's Gospel come from the book of John. I really like John's Gospel, because it focuses more on the spiritual side of Jesus's ministry. This particular story actually comes at a time before Jesus's death on the cross and resurrection, which might seem odd, given the church season that we are in. But what we are talking about this morning is the way that God speaks to us today, even without Jesus being here himself. So let's look at our text.

    So, today's lesson may seem a little jumbled and confusing, so let me break it down. Jesus is talking to his disciples, and already, he knows what's going to happen. Jesus knows even though his disciples have a relationship with him while he was on earth, that they would need something to connect them to God after he died and then went to heaven. Imagine it like this: God is the source of power, like a battery, and Jesus is the extension cord that brings God to world, and all it's people. Now, Jesus knows that he was going to soon be betrayed and would he die on the cross before being resurrected from the dead and coming back. So, Jesus tells his disciples that “in a little while, the world will not see me, but you will see me, and because I live, you will live also.” Jesus knows that there will be a period of time where he will not be in the world, and so Jesus reassures them: I will not leave you orphaned.” That is to say, I will not abandon you. So Jesus asks God for another person to step in when Jesus is gone from the world, and that is the Holy Spirit. Now, remember the God as a battery from earlier? Without Jesus, God still provides the Holy Spirit, so that even though Jesus is not here physically, God is still here with all of us!

    Now, on the Spirit, Jesus says that the world does not know the Spirit. Jesus recognizes that the world is a broken and hurting place, and that we are a broken and hurting people. But Jesus says that we are able to know this spirit, because it abides in us. Well, wait. How does that make any sense? It's because God chose us to have the Holy Spirit work through us that we are able to overcome the sin and brokenness of the world.

    Okay, great! We have the Spirit. So what now? Well, this is the part the most Lutherans might cringe at when I say “go do good works.” “But wait!” I hear the voices say: “We're justified by faith, not works!” This is true. But while we don't have to do good works in order to earn salvation, we CAN still do good works to show that the spirit is at work in us. Take a look at the first and last verse of today's Gospel reading: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.” Well, what commandment are those? Simply put, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. Let me put this in another way: “because we have been shown such great love, we are able to show great love for others.” (Ephesians 2:4, James 2:13).

    God loved us first, so much that God sent Jesus to be with us and then to die on the cross. And then, God continues that love for us today through the Holy Spirit. Growing in faith is like falling in love. You cannot do it from what you read alone. Faith and love come from contact with It's love that changes us and how we behave. Over my lifetime, I have seen a number of people who have changed me and my faith. I learned faith, love, trust, patience, determination, and a number of other qualities because of what God was doing through other people. And now, I am able to help take those traits, and give them to others, just as they have been given to me. Faith works through relationship. Because of what God has done for all of us through Jesus, and now through the Holy Spirit, we are free to be God's people in the world, and are able to do good works for the rest of the world.

    I'd like to close on a story this morning. I used to run on the Cross-Country and Track teams for my high school and college. We had one girl, named Brittany, who was usually negative about practice every day that we gathered. “This sucks! I don't want to do this!” she would whine. Well, after a while, some of my teammates and I got tired of her attitude. So we got together, prayed about it, and decided that we were going to change her perspective through love and positivity. So, the next day, as Brittany was walking to the gym for practice, one of our friends held the door open for her, smiled and said “today is a great day for a great run.” She looked at him with disgust, and went in. Over the next few days, we repeated the process, holding the door open for her and the other teammates and saying “Today is a great day for a great run,” and it started catching on. Brittany, wanting to show how silly we looked, came over and stood by us while we were holding the door open. “This is a great day for a great run!” She would say in a sarcastic tone. She kept trying to mock us, but soon her tone changed from (Sarcastic) “This is a great day” to (sincere) “This is a great day.” Later on, Brittany became a team captain for the girls, ran on varsity, and was one of the biggest motivators that our team had.

    Love changes us. Because of what God has done for you, and you, and you, and all of us, we are able to be connected to God, the source of all good, through the Holy Spirit. And because of this connection, we are able to spread that good to others, anywhere we go. So, my prayer for you this week is that you would let God abide in you through the Holy Spirit, and that you would let that light shine before others, that you may give glory to your father, who is in heaven. Today is a great day for a great run.

Thanks be to God. Amen!



Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled


Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus’ disciples had reason to be concerned. Jesus was not being well received by the authorities – church and state – in Jerusalem. They had reason to fear for his life – and for theirs. And yet Jesus says to them – actually commands them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Jesus is not denying that bad things happen. In the Gospel of John Jesus knows he is on the way to the cross. But Jesus does not want his disciples to get stuck in fear and anxiety. Instead, he calls them – and us – to trust in the promises of God that he has come to share.

What does Jesus promise? Jesus promises: There’s a Place for You. Jesus calls you into relationship with God and promises a place for you with him, with God, forever. I imagine this is like what I see happening at camp every year. A new kid arrives looking a little lost and sad – but then a counselor comes and says hey –come and stand by me, there’s a place for you right here – and suddenly the kid is playing 4 square next to his counselor – and grinning from ear to ear. Oh, and this doesn’t just happen to kids… People of all ages need a place to belong. That’s what Jesus says to you: I’m glad you’re here – whether you are new or have been here forever. There’s a Place for You – right beside your counselor.

So who is our counselor? In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us with “I AM” statements, statements that help us understand why on earth God would put skin on and come into our troubled world. In today’s Gospel (John 14:1-12), Jesus says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Jesus has come so that we may know God. Jesus shows us the way, tells us truth – not spin – and gives us life. Jesus came because God’s purpose is... love. And so Jesus invites us into relationship. There’s a place for you – Jesus shows us the way – it’s with Jesus and it’s filled with truth and life.

And yet… despite the graciousness of Jesus’ words, and the wide open invitation, and despite the command by Jesus, “Do not let your heart be troubled” – still...the words that stick out are the next ones: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

A wise pastor once told me – you can preach GRACE, GRACE, GRACE, GRACE, GRACE, LAW, GRACE, GRACE, GRACE… and the word that people will hear – and remember - is Law. The “Law” - words that point out the ways that we are not worthy - are the words that stick to us. These are the words that we lose sleep over – even though we have heard Jesus’ command: Do not let your hearts be troubled; even though we hear God’s gift of Grace and love; even though we hear that Jesus has not been sent into the world to condemn the world but to save it; even though we hear Jesus say, “I have a place for you…Still… we hear words that to our ears sound like exclusion…like we don’t belong and our hearts are troubled.

Jesus knows it. And so Jesus invites you, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, Believe in me…”

Believe. This got me to thinking: Is belief something that happens here (in our heads) or here (in our hearts?) or here (in our gut)?

When we study scripture it can sometimes be very much a “head thing.” At our pastor text study, for example, we look at the words carefully, sometimes looking back at the Greek or Hebrew as we seek to understand Jesus’ message for us. So, for today, I looked up the Greek word for “believe.” It turns out it can also be translated as “to put your trust in.” So… Jesus is saying, “Put your trust in me.”

Trust. Imagine a little girl standing on the edge of a pool and her dad says, “Jump. I’ll catch you. Trust me.”

Suddenly, trust is no longer a head thing. It moves right to the gut, the place where we experience fear, anxiety, angst. But.. if that father and daughter have a loving relationship, trust moves the response right up to the heart. She knows that her daddy will do anything in the world for her. And she jumps.

Her daddy catches her and swings her around. She knew he would. Jesus is like that. Jesus will catch you. He invites you to trust in him.

But sometimes it’s hard. I’ve recently attended two powerful funerals. The first was for a mentor and professor, Rev. Dr. Omar Otterness. As friends and family gathered, we mourned his death. But the mourning was for our sake – when someone is 98 years old, it calls for a celebration!

The other funeral was this past Friday for Chris Stanley. And that was hard. Chris was 22 years old – and had gotten washed into the Mississippi river by St. Anthony Falls. This was a devastating, painful loss for his family and friends. It is the type of challenge in which people wonder, “Where is God?” And yet… it is into those very times that Jesus walks even closer to us… in many ways. The service was held at Central Lutheran church – a huge sanctuary --and it was packed. It was filled with friends and family – but it was also filled with the body of Christ. We showed up to grieve our loss and to support and surround his family with Christ’s love. We came to give thanks to God that Jesus had taken Chris home –even though we all wished it wasn’t so soon.

There were lots of tears as people got up to speak. But then Chris’ mother – Melissa – she’ s the pastor of Tapestry, a new Latino ministry of the ELCA, – shared some of his poems and some of his hope for a better world. And that was remarkable – not many moms can speak at the funeral of their 22 year old son. But then she did something even more remarkable. She sang the 23rd Psalm. She sang – reminding all of us that even in the midst of the worst trials imaginable… God is with us – shepherding us, caring for us walking beside us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, remember what Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” For God is with you – and you can trust in Jesus – and the body of Christ around you – to love and support you no matter what happens. After all, since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth – how can we keep from singing?                

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
May 14, 2017


Humor + Grace


Humor + Grace

Grace and Peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!

    Sorry everyone, I'm still warming up. Let me tell a few more jokes. Did you know that the first computer was in the bible? It's found all the way back with Adam and Eve. Surprise, Surprise, it was an Apple! But after just one byte, everything crashed.

    Happy Holy Humor Sunday, everyone. Holy Humor Sunday services not only give us an opportunity for ongoing celebrations of the greatest miracle in human history, which is Jesus' resurrection, it also gives each of us an opportunity to celebrate, and give thanks for, our own smaller resurrections in this world and this life. This is a tradition that started in the 15th century. Usually, it was the weeks right after Easter in which less people came to church. As part of the holy humor services, pastors and priests would add extras stories and jokes in their sermons, and afterward, people would gather to tell stories and play practical jokes. Because of this, It may come as no surprise that the observance of this holiday was officially outlawed by Pope Clement X in the 17th century. Let me see a quick show of hands if this sounds right: Religion and religious figures are typically seen as sour, finger-wagging, and way too serious by non-believers and sometimes by us in the pews. We have made rituals and saints untouchable, so sacred and set apart that they are not to be sullied by any crass attempt to laugh at them too with the rest of life. Where could we have gotten this idea, that faith has to be so serious? Now, to be fair, just a few weeks ago, we told the story of Christ's painful torture and death. But now we are able to see an empty tomb, and are able to celebrate with others the joy that comes from Christ's resurrection.

    Now, in today's reading (Romans 14:13-23), we find the Apostle Paul, writing a letter to the Roman people. One of the big questions that Paul was addressing was the food laws, and how they were being used against new believers. You see, some believed that in order to be Christian, you would have to follow the old kosher laws. This meant no pork, no bacon, no shrimp, and don't even think about bacon-wrapped shrimp. Now, this might seem all about the rules about what someone should or should not eat. But I think that today's lesson can also be a guide on how it is that we treat others. Paul writes that we don't need to worry about what it is that we're eating, neither steak nor pork chops will make you any closer or farther from God. But more importantly, we shouldn't use our liberties to make life more difficult for someone else. Paul's letter can be broken up into three parts:

    First, don't hurt your fellow believers. That is to say, don't make rules that will hurt someone else. Now, sometimes rules give clarity to people. There have often been times where I have added extra rules for myself for the sake of transparency and in order that people can understand that I can be depended on. These are rules that I don't expect everyone else to follow. It can be little things, such as checking with your spouse before you buy food, or sending the text to let your parents know what time you'll be home. We don't have the same rules for everyone, and that is okay. Paul writes that we should not set rules up as a stumbling block for others, that might hurt them or keep them from experiencing Christ in their lives. Remember, “these are the people that God has died for.”

     Second, don't harm your testimony. Paul writes that the way that we talk or treat something can make it seem evil to someone else. Now, in this particular passage, Paul is talking about the food that they were eating. But this can be applied to other things as well. Paul writes in an earlier passage in Romans that we are free to decide for ourselves on non-essential issues like eating, drinking, or the jokes that we make. Many peoples’ biggest reason for ignoring God is what they have seen what someone claiming to be Christian do. Now certainly, sometimes they have a wrong perspective on what it means to be a Christian, but many times the things that other believers say or do affect how we talk about God with others. Have any of you, when explaining about faith, had to tell someone “oh, we're not like THAT person, or that group?” What we intended for good, and what really is good in our lives, can be spoken of as evil when we do not restrain ourselves when it is appropriate. Paul tells us that when we are acting as person's of faith, sometimes we have to hold ourselves back in order to both serve God and help others to understand the God we serve.

    And third and finally, Paul letter tells us not to hurt our church. Paul writes “So let's agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help each other with encouraging words, don't drag them down by finding fault.” This means that we are using our time and our energy to help build up one another in the body of Christ. Sometimes, we have to check where our hearts and motivations lie. If we are able to have our words, thoughts, and actions are in line with one another, we're doing pretty good. But if it seems like something's not quite right, you might want to check your motives again.

    Now, you may be thinking, hey, wasn't this supposed to be a Holy Humor Service? And you're right, I've been talking about a fair serious text. But in a way, this text does apply to the way that humor in our everyday life. We can use humor to build people and the church up, or we can use it to hurt and damage those sitting around us. Let's re-look at Paul's three points: 1. Don't hurt your follow believers. Don't make jokes about people that will hurt them or the way that people see them. 2. Don't harm your testimony. If people heard some of the jokes that we said, what would they think about us? And three, Don't hurt our church. While I was looking through jokes for material for this service, I had to cut out about half the jokes I read because I saw the harm that they did at the expense of the church and believers. But I know the truth. I know those jokes aren't us.

    Maybe some of you here this morning don’t feel much like laughing. Maybe some of you have reason to be serious this morning because something you care about deeply in your life is in serious trouble. More often than not, we have cares and burdens that we cannot just put down. This morning, I am not asking you to put on a happy face and pretend that your troubles do not exist. This Easter season celebrates Jesus’ resurrection, but also other smaller resurrections in our lives, areas where God made a way out of no way. Even if we are troubled now, can we remember a time when we were surprised by joy? When someone came to our aid or when relationships mended or when our load was lightened by someone else’s kindness? Cultivating our sense of humor requires a lot of the same skills as growing in our faith. Both require a hope in what has not yet come to be; a deep down trust that all will be well. Our being able to laugh can be a sigh of relief that we are still ourselves in the midst of crisis.

    Now, I have a personal story to end on. For those of you who remember my first week, you know that I didn't come in, writing long essays about God and theology with big words. That's not what I did. What I remember most about my first week here, is that I got in the dunk tank at the carnival, and that was my introduction to this community. And let me tell ya, some of the people here have really good throwing arms. And at the time, I had to laugh. Here I was, starting a new job in a new church family, And as absurd as it seemed, life was going on. Here's the thing, I don't think that I could have been as effective in my job here if I didn't get to laugh with you all. Humor is my way of opening the door for deeper conversation, and for building bonds with you all. And that's the thing: humor and grace go together. Being convinced that God loves us just as we are is all the more meaningful the more we can see clearly just how absurd we sometimes are. Humor allows us to take a look an honest look at ourselves, to see our own needs and to recognize where we have been blessed. So use your blessings, use your laughter and your humor to build up others. It is because of what Christ has done that we are able to have such great joy, and give it to others. And for that we can turn and say, Thanks be to God. Amen.


       Luke 24:13-35   Peace and Grace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!      One does not simply walk with God without something happening. It's funny how God can be in the midst of our everyday lives, and even be there when we least expect it. Even something as ordinary as long walk can turn into some deep and moving when God is involved. Today's passage is interesting, because it moves away from the disciples, and focuses on Jesus and two followers, rather on the disciples. Today's text is a personal favorite of mine, one in which Jesus walks with his followers, and helps them to come to a better understanding of what God is doing. So let's take a look.      In the text this morning, we hear about a time soon after Jesus' death and resurrection. Two of Jesus' followers were walking away from Jerusalem, towards the town of Emmaus. Now, as people do, they were talking about recent events. In my opinion, it's the sign of a good friend when you can talk to them about religion or politics, or in this case, both. As they were walking and talking Jesus came up and asked them what they were talking about. At first they didn't know who this person was, and were surprised that he hadn't heard the news, and so the two followers proceeded to tell Jesus about what they had heard about him, his death, and his resurrection. I imagine Jesus trying to hide a smile and think “oh, so that's what you've heard about me.” The two followers also confessed that they were still having trouble believing all of the things that had happened. So Jesus goes all the way back to the story of Moses, and tells them everything that had been said about Jesus. Now, you have to understand, they had seven miles to walk, so Jesus had a good amount of time to tell them the whole story. I couldn't fit all of that into one sermon, so you'll have to come back next week to hear more.      So they arrived in Emmaus, and the two followers invited Jesus to stay because it was almost evening. So Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his followers to eat. Now, where have we heard that before? It was at that time that the followers were able to recognize Jesus. But when they did, Jesus pulled a Houdini on them, and suddenly vanished. The two followers were left there, astonished. I imagine them sitting there, trying to figure this out.  “Wait was that...?” “Yeah...” “And did he just...?” “Yeah...” And so, when they realized that it was Jesus, they wasted no time. They got up, went the seven miles back to Jerusalem, and told the Eleven disciples that the resurrection really had happened, and that Jesus and told about their experience with him on the road.      So, what do we do with this text? Well, today I want you to know that God is walking with us. I had an experience of walking with God two summers ago when I went on a five day walk in Spain. Let me start out by say that my wife is smart and knows five different languages, and I do not, so I was prepared to walk by myself for those five days. We went to Spain to gather data for the book she's writing, and while we were there, I went on a five day hiking pilgrimage on a part of the Camio de Santiago, or as we know it, the Way of St. James. It's a pilgrimage that started back in the 9th century, has a variety routes that lead from France and ends in the city of Santiago, where Ana and I were staying. I had a lot on my mind at the time and thought: “You know what? Five days is the minimum that one needs to walk to get a cool certificate. I can do that!” So, I packed a backpack, some money, and my music player, and set out.      The first day went great, I was going along, passing all kinds of other pilgrims on the trail. The second day was a little more rough. I started feeling sore in my legs and feet. By the third day, I was dying. I was limping pretty badly, and it was fairly obvious that I was forcing myself to keep going. It didn't help to see roadway signs for cars that were could be to the final destination city in a matter of hours where I still had two more days of hiking. I finally broke down, and thought, you know, if I still feel like this tomorrow, I'm calling it off. I tried my best, and that's all I could do. I prayed that I would have the strength to keep walking, but didn't honestly know if I was able to keep going. But then something happened. It's hard to explain, but I came to find out that the other pilgrims on the trail take care of each other. An Italian that I met offered me his expertise in medicine to help ease my pain. A pair of Canadians told me they would keep their eyes out for me to make sure I was okay. And at one point, I got to share the trail with a German about my age who needed to share parts of his life story and so we passed the time chatting as we walked.      Dear friends in Christ, life is a journey. While I was praying for Christ to show up during those five days, I didn't think it would come in the form of other travelers. You see, our God is a God who walks with us, in good times and bad. And even as a I was hobbling along, it was God who was giving me strength to make the next step. God was also in the kindness of others who walked with me and around me. I've learned that in this world my own strength and my own wisdom will fail and will not always be enough. But God brings good news to us, making us strong where we are weak. So, as you go on your way today, talk with your fellow pilgrims and travelers. It is their stories and their kindness that is a reflection of what God is doing in our lives. Just as Jesus walked with followers then, he walks with us now. And for that we can turn and say: Thanks be to God. Amen.  Vicar James Anderson


Luke 24:13-35

Peace and Grace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!

    One does not simply walk with God without something happening. It's funny how God can be in the midst of our everyday lives, and even be there when we least expect it. Even something as ordinary as long walk can turn into some deep and moving when God is involved. Today's passage is interesting, because it moves away from the disciples, and focuses on Jesus and two followers, rather on the disciples. Today's text is a personal favorite of mine, one in which Jesus walks with his followers, and helps them to come to a better understanding of what God is doing. So let's take a look.

    In the text this morning, we hear about a time soon after Jesus' death and resurrection. Two of Jesus' followers were walking away from Jerusalem, towards the town of Emmaus. Now, as people do, they were talking about recent events. In my opinion, it's the sign of a good friend when you can talk to them about religion or politics, or in this case, both. As they were walking and talking Jesus came up and asked them what they were talking about. At first they didn't know who this person was, and were surprised that he hadn't heard the news, and so the two followers proceeded to tell Jesus about what they had heard about him, his death, and his resurrection. I imagine Jesus trying to hide a smile and think “oh, so that's what you've heard about me.” The two followers also confessed that they were still having trouble believing all of the things that had happened. So Jesus goes all the way back to the story of Moses, and tells them everything that had been said about Jesus. Now, you have to understand, they had seven miles to walk, so Jesus had a good amount of time to tell them the whole story. I couldn't fit all of that into one sermon, so you'll have to come back next week to hear more.

    So they arrived in Emmaus, and the two followers invited Jesus to stay because it was almost evening. So Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his followers to eat. Now, where have we heard that before? It was at that time that the followers were able to recognize Jesus. But when they did, Jesus pulled a Houdini on them, and suddenly vanished. The two followers were left there, astonished. I imagine them sitting there, trying to figure this out.

“Wait was that...?” “Yeah...” “And did he just...?” “Yeah...” And so, when they realized that it was Jesus, they wasted no time. They got up, went the seven miles back to Jerusalem, and told the Eleven disciples that the resurrection really had happened, and that Jesus and told about their experience with him on the road.

    So, what do we do with this text? Well, today I want you to know that God is walking with us. I had an experience of walking with God two summers ago when I went on a five day walk in Spain. Let me start out by say that my wife is smart and knows five different languages, and I do not, so I was prepared to walk by myself for those five days. We went to Spain to gather data for the book she's writing, and while we were there, I went on a five day hiking pilgrimage on a part of the Camio de Santiago, or as we know it, the Way of St. James. It's a pilgrimage that started back in the 9th century, has a variety routes that lead from France and ends in the city of Santiago, where Ana and I were staying. I had a lot on my mind at the time and thought: “You know what? Five days is the minimum that one needs to walk to get a cool certificate. I can do that!” So, I packed a backpack, some money, and my music player, and set out.

    The first day went great, I was going along, passing all kinds of other pilgrims on the trail. The second day was a little more rough. I started feeling sore in my legs and feet. By the third day, I was dying. I was limping pretty badly, and it was fairly obvious that I was forcing myself to keep going. It didn't help to see roadway signs for cars that were could be to the final destination city in a matter of hours where I still had two more days of hiking. I finally broke down, and thought, you know, if I still feel like this tomorrow, I'm calling it off. I tried my best, and that's all I could do. I prayed that I would have the strength to keep walking, but didn't honestly know if I was able to keep going. But then something happened. It's hard to explain, but I came to find out that the other pilgrims on the trail take care of each other. An Italian that I met offered me his expertise in medicine to help ease my pain. A pair of Canadians told me they would keep their eyes out for me to make sure I was okay. And at one point, I got to share the trail with a German about my age who needed to share parts of his life story and so we passed the time chatting as we walked.

    Dear friends in Christ, life is a journey. While I was praying for Christ to show up during those five days, I didn't think it would come in the form of other travelers. You see, our God is a God who walks with us, in good times and bad. And even as a I was hobbling along, it was God who was giving me strength to make the next step. God was also in the kindness of others who walked with me and around me. I've learned that in this world my own strength and my own wisdom will fail and will not always be enough. But God brings good news to us, making us strong where we are weak. So, as you go on your way today, talk with your fellow pilgrims and travelers. It is their stories and their kindness that is a reflection of what God is doing in our lives. Just as Jesus walked with followers then, he walks with us now. And for that we can turn and say:
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Vicar James Anderson


Caring for All God’s Creatures


Caring for All God’s Creatures

Cowboy Bob the Third. I remember the day he came to our farm.

He was beautiful. No. He was magnificent.. To me he was a bit intimidating. To my sister Minette - he was a dream come true.

Our parents had decided that when we were 12, we could choose an animal to raise and care for. Cowboy Bob the Third was a two year old Chestnut Quarter Horse, Green broke. And Minette loved him. She spent a week at the ranch where Cowboy Bob was raised learning to ride and care for him. Girl and her horse. What could be better? She probably would have said “nothing!” that is until Cowboy Bob got pinkeye and Minette was told – no riding until he heals.

It took longer than we thought. And then the bitter cold of winter set in. It was a long cold winter without any real chance to go riding. But then… Spring! Minette couldn’t wait to get out to ride again. Our dad let the horse out into the coral. It was at that point that we realized what the “Green” meant in “Green Broke."

Cowboy Bob the Third kicked up his heals! It soon became clear that he had no intention of putting a saddle – and certainly not a rider - on his back. A bit protective – as fathers sometimes are – my dad hired a “professional horse trainer” to come and take the “green” out of the “Green Broke” designation. Cowboy Bob bucked her off. She got on again. He bucked her off again – but this time, she broke some bones … and Cowboy Bob was sent back to the ranch.  

This may explain – at least in part -- why, when I turned twelve, I got chickens.

As those of you with pets know, caring for another one of God’s creatures takes work and commitment on the part of the caretaker. And yet, as people – even people of God – we have often gotten that message wrong.

Our error in the way that we treat animals – and really all of creation – can be traced back to the way that we interpret and understand the relationship between people and the rest of God’s creation in the first chapter of Genesis .

In the first story of creation, God creates and blesses each part of creation. Finally, on the sixth day, God creates the creatures that live on the land, those that creep, crawl, run and walk including people. We read:

So God created humankind[e] in his image,
    in the image of God, God created them;[f]
    male and female God created them.

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 

It’s that word “dominion” that gets us in trouble. It can also be translated as “rule.” But what image comes to mind when you hear “dominion” or “rule?” To me it automatically sounds authoritarian and accompanied by power and might – not grace and care. The Message Bible translates the word as “responsible.”

This is a better understanding of our role and our relationship to the rest of creation – especially for those creatures that we live with. I remember one year the kids found some tadpoles in the stream at Whitewater State Park. They were adorable. Can we bring them home? Sure, we said. But then, it was our responsibility to figure out what they would eat! It wasn’t so hard for the tadpoles. They were happy to eat shredded boiled lettuce. I don’t remember why we had to boil it. But we did. It wasn’t too painful – at least not for me. OK – truth be told – someone else in my family took care of it.

The tadpoles grew… and turned into the cutest of little frogs. This was great. But then they did not want to eat boiled lettuce anymore. Their palate had grown up and changed. Now we were supposed to feed them mosquitoes. Except… they did not want dead mosquitoes.

Oh I am sure we could have gone to a pet store and gotten something that would have worked. But little frogs were starting to need more space than the goldfish bowl could allow. We had read that it was important to return animals to their own habitat. So we packed them up and went on a road trip with our little frogs and returned them to their stream. Did we have dominion over the frogs? I suppose so. Not one of them jumped out of the tank and demanded French fries instead of boiled lettuce. So I suppose we were the rulers. But really, we were the caretakers – and bringing them back to their stream when we could no longer care for them was the responsible thing to do.

God has blessed the earth with a great variety of creatures. We as humans are just one species. But we have been left in charge – to take care of the earth. God trusted us to be responsible.

Unfortunately, we sometimes choose “dominion” and force instead of care. With 20-20 hindsight, I can see that what Cowboy Bob had needed was a horse whisperer – someone who was patient and gentle and willing to take some time to give care and training rather than a person who was going to put Cowboy Bob in his place.

Today we have invited all creatures into God’s sanctuary, into this holy place, to bless them and to remind ourselves that God has created all of us – whether we have skin or fur or feathers or scales; whether we swim, fly, walk, creep or crawl. And God has given US the responsibility to care for creation – including all the creatures in it – pets and working animals and those in the wild … For God has blessed us – so that we may bless one another – and God’s whole creation. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran
April 23, 2017



 JOY! Jesus has called you by name


JOY! Jesus has called you by name

It’s early morning, still dark, when Mary heads to the tomb. But when she gets there – and sees that the stone is rolled away and the tomb has been opened – she runs to tell the disciples what she assumes has happened, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." She’s still in the dark.

The disciples aren’t much help. They run back – find the tomb empty with two piles of neatly folded graveclothes – and then go home.

Mary, back at the tomb, weeps. Not only did her Lord die a shameful death, but now even his body is gone. Mary loved Jesus. He was her Lord. He gave her hope, dreams, faith. But now…all of it - her hopes, dreams, beliefs… dashed. Mary grieves. She weeps.

A visit from angels usually inspires fear. But when angels appear in the tomb and ask Mary, “Woman, why do you weep,?” she simply replied as she had to the disciples: "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." She was still in the dark. Even when Jesus himself asks her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" she did not understand - she was still in the dark.

“Who are you looking for?” Mikayla, a young woman from our neighborhood, didn’t know. A couple of months ago I heard her tell her story - growing up with two parents who picked drugs over her - every day. These drugs released in her dad an anger that he took out on her - brutally kicking her, hitting her, and dragging her by her hair. Mikayla remembers running for the bathroom because it was the only room in the house with a lock on it. And she would sit there, afraid – sometimes all night, in the dark. Abused at home, bullied at school, Mikayla had reason to despair. “Who are you looking for?” Mikayla didn’t know… yet. But this is not the end of her story.  

Who are you looking for?” Sometimes that’s a hard question. Whether you grew up hearing the Easter story or you are hearing it new – or as if it was new today - there can be times in our lives that we find ourselves in the dark - lost in darkness, grief and despair. A relationship ends; A loved one dies or gets sick; A job or other opportunity slips through our fingers; dark days of depression waft over us; everything goes wrong… and we feel alone, in the dark. We grieve; we weep; we wonder… where is God? Where is Jesus in all of this heartache?

That was Mary’s question for this man– she assumed he was the gardener. She begs him to let her see Jesus’ body. But then… he did more than that -- he called her name: Mary.

Jesus called her by name (or maybe it was Ma Ma Ma Mary) and with that one word -- Mary’s world was transformed. What was dark became light; what was hidden was revealed; death became life and sorrow was turned into JOY!

This transformational joy is not only for Mary. Jesus has come – and is calling….you…. by name. Jesus is calling you out of darkness, out of despair, out of hopelessness and into light, hope and joy.

Yes, I know, we live in a world in which tyrants still rage and poison their own citizens. People die of hunger, illness, disease and war. Our world is still filled with deception, “fake news” and violence, darkness, pain and distress. And yet… it is into this very mess of a world that Jesus came – for Mary and for you…and you… and you… and me.

Even in the midst of sorrow and despair or maybe especially in those times and places where we feel lost, alone and in the dark, Jesus is with us. Even here. Even now. And so… we dare to hope. Because… this – sorrow and pain -- is not the end of the story.

It wasn’t the end of the story for British Statesman Winston Churchill either. At the end of his funeral – a service that he planned himself -- a solitary trumpeter played taps at the western door of the chapel symbolic of the setting sun – a fitting song for Churchill’s life and career of service. A few moments of silence followed. But then…breaking the silence came the sound of another trumpet – this time at the Eastern Chapel door, playing First Call - “Reveille,” – the morning wake-up song for the light of the new day.

It’s a new day. It’s a new day for Mary. Because Jesus doesn’t give Mary a great big hug and say, “See, I told you it would be ok.” Instead, rather than let her hold onto him and stay at the tomb sobbing – even tears of joy -- Jesus sends her out – on a mission.

Her mission is to share this good news – darkness has been changed to light; death to life, sorrow to JOY!.

It’s a new day. And Jesus has give us this mission too.

But it takes courage – Easter courage -- because the world around us is still living in Good Friday sorrows. The world around us still sees death, destruction and despair. As Christians – we acknowledge that those things are still there. But they don’t have the last word. It’s not the end of the story.

It wasn’t the end of the story for Mary and it wasn’t the end of the story for Mikayla either – although her life got worse – much worse – before it got better. You see, one day, Mikayla had had enough. And so she found a bottle of pills in the medicine cabinet – and thought she would end it all. Luckily, her mother found her and took her to the hospital. The next day she was taken to Treehouse – a neighborhood place for troubled teens that offers counseling, care and the love of Jesus. Over the next six years, Mikayla’s eyes were opened and she learned that she too was a child of God – and that Jesus has called her by name. Today, her mission is to share the good news of Jesus’ love with other youth who – like her are stuck in darkness and despair and have not heard of Jesus’ love.

Mikayla has a mission – and so do you. Jesus calls us – like Mary and Mikayla – by name and sends us out to carry with us – to bear on our lips the message of the Good News of Jesus’ love into a world that desperately needs to hear it.

We are sent out bearing a light to shine in the darkness, a word of hope to the hopeless and a message of Easter Joy to all we meet until this Good News of Jesus’ love has spread to the whole world and the world is filled with… JOY! Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran church
Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017




Dear friends in Christ, Grace and Peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!

    So, while writing this sermon, I thought to myself: it would be pretty easy to ask if every heard my children's sermon, and say, “well, pretty much that.” But this week's topic deserves more attention, because there is are so many interesting pieces that are going on. Yes, Jesus arrives in the city in style, and there was much rejoicing, but not in the way that you might think. If I were to say that there was a king arriving, you would probably expect a great parade with a limo to drive up, bearing the king wearing magnificent clothing. But by comparison, Jesus arrives in a T-shirt and jeans, driving himself in an old Volvo. It doesn't seem right that the king of creation would arrive in economy class. I think that there was so much else going on in our texts today. So, let's take a look:

    Now, this story is in all four of the Gospels. This is important, because the authors knew it was important. While most people want to skip ahead and start reading the Passion texts of Jesus's last day, the disciples of Christ knew that this moment was big news, and so all four had it written down. Turning to our text then, the first thing we read is that Jesus has come near to Jerusalem. He’s not technically there yet. It’s as if he was on his way to Minneapolis, and happened to stop in Robbinsdale. Now we’ve known that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. In fact, right before our passage Jesus says this to his disciples in Matthew 20:

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”

    Now imagine being a disciple and hearing that your rabbi, your teacher, your mentor, this one whom you left your whole family and job behind to follow because you believed that he was the Savior of Israel, tells you this. Your holy city is occupied by a foreign pagan power called Rome, and the one person you thought held the power to drive them out starts prophesying his own death. He is obedient to do what God has called him to do.

    Now imagine you’re one of these two disciples, and Jesus tells you to go ahead of him into the village to fetch a donkey and her colt that Jesus apparently already knows about and to untie them and bring them back to him. What would go through your mind? Well, after Jesus has just prophesied his death that lays ahead, I think we would surely contemplate whether our death might also lie ahead. If Jesus is so eager to die, why doesn’t HE go steal the donkey? But he sends us, the disciples on this mission. Don’t worry, he gave us a back up plan in case anyone starts to say something like “Hey, where do you think you’re going with my donkey?” Jesus told us to tell them: “The Lord needs them.’”

Again, not exactly the full-proof explanation.

    Everything seems very arbitrary and chaotic. The disciples have to be wondering, “Am I really willing to be killed for a guy who wants to steal a donkey and ride into Jerusalem?” And what about the owner? Matthew doesn’t say anything about his reaction. But he has to be wondering who this “Lord” is that has need of it. I mean, a donkey may not be the most elegant creature, but they sure do get a lot done. They were worth at least 2 months’ wages back then. You wouldn’t just give up your donkey, because you’re giving up an essential part of your working life, your economic security. Here's the thing: The donkey has a normal mundane existence to live. It’s not particularly special. And yet Jesus knows it is in the village, and calls the disciples to fetch it. Even the donkey gets to be used by God. Even as things can seem so arbitrary and chaotic, God is doing something through these characters. God is also doing something amazing here at Faith-Lilac Way, through each one of us, despite the fact that we may be afraid, that we have a pretty mundane existence and don’t think we have much to offer. God is still calling us to serve.

Matthew tells us that all this is happening to fulfill a prophecy that was written in the book of Zechariah, chapter 9 verse 9, which Matthew quotes:

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'

This verse is really the center-piece of the text. The Daughter of Zion is another name used when talking about Jerusalem. There’s a comforting word of hope here. “See! Your king comes to you.” Matthew equating Jesus with this king in the prophecy. Indeed, Israel doesn’t have to go searching for its own salvation, but this salvation is coming to it in the form of a king. Now when we think of a king, again we often think of someone of great power and strength. But even the prophecy from Zechariah turns this notion on its head by describing the king as gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Again, if you’re thinking that Jesus is the Messiah, which many did, then that means that he is obviously going to conquer Rome. But this would hardly be the image of a conquering king. The people of that time would have expected a war-horse, a mighty steed, and a great sword to boot! But there is no weapon at all, because this king is gentle. And instead of a war-horse, a simple donkey.

And then there is a celebration of this gentle king’s arrival. And the people shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The Son of David is a clear marker of the Messiah, a title for the one who will save Israel. Now, words change over time. At this point, saying Hosanna was kind of like saying “Hurrah! Woohoo!” It was just an exclamation of praise and joy. But the word goes back to Psalm 118, and in Hebrew it literally means, “Save us, we beseech you!” Isn't that funny! The crowd celebrates, and yet they’re using a word that is crying out for help. They do not know it yet, but they are already asking God to save them.

And then the part comes with the big question. I think that the question asked by the city as Jesus is entering their town:is the question we have to ask ourselves“Who is this?” Isn’t it interesting that such a gentle, peaceful king could shake and stir an entire city Jerusalem? Now, my thought is that most of us who have a bit of Christian upbringing tend to think of God either as God of the Old Testament, who came with fire and wrath, or God as Jesus, the kindly savior. It's hard to love the fire and wrath God. I certainly need the God who loved me first. And I think we need to be like the city Jerusalem, and tremble before this king, Jesus, who comes unarmed on a donkey who completely overturns our views of power and kingship.

The point that I'm trying to get at this morning is that because of what God has done for us, we can do for others. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that those who have seen him have seen the Father. And so when you see this man, you see who God truly is. God is the gentle King, the One who loved us so much that he will lay his own life down for us, so that we might be raised up with him. Dear friends in Christ, that is the Good news. Jesus not only shows us what true royalty looks like, and what true power is, but reveals the Father to be this way. So let us celebrate Christ as he comes into our cities, our neighborhoods, and our workplaces. Let us lend him our donkeys, and our very lives for his service. Let us even be like the donkey, so that we might be untied and put to service ourselves. The triumphal entry of Jesus is the triumph of humility and meekness of God. And so we turn to this gentle king and say:

Thanks be to God, Amen.
Vicar James Anderson
April 9, 2017


Our Watershed Moment


Our Watershed Moment

Sermon presented by guest preacher, Emilie Bouvier,
Minneapolis Area Synod's Congregational Organizer for Environmental Justice

Friends, grace and peace.

It is so good to be here with you this morning. It’s an honor to share this space of worship with you all and to be invited to speak a word about faith, water, and environmental stewardship on our Lenten journey together.

Thanks for bearing with me also as we take a detour from the lectionary and read these verses from Genesis [Genesis 2:10-15] that we often skip right over. We know it in the first creation story with wind over water, but we forget that the second creation story begins with water as well. The very first pages of our sacred scriptures are drenched with images of a watery deep.

Water forms and shaped us – it is stirring at the very beginnings of our faith tradition.

Now, as a kid I didn’t grow up surrounded by water – I spent my childhood in Nebraska, which is definitely not the land of 10,000 lakes. In fact, the only lake that I knew of nearby was human made. But when my family moved into the countryside, I spent a lot of time wandering along a stream that cut near our house – whose shallow trickle was usually thin enough for me to find a place to jump across, much to the chagrin of my brother, who 5 years younger than me, and much less adventurous. (Let’s just say whenever he chased me I was always able make quick escape.) But looking back, it’s a different memory I hold from when I came to first know water, and it is much closer to this place – it was walking along the Mississippi with my mom who grew up in St. Paul and spent her childhood by the river. We walked a path where the bank of the river juts out, carving into the neighborhood. There’s a small waterfall there, and when we came to top, I saw the small stream that created it, such as small simple stream, that made something much more dramatic and awe-inspiring as it tumbled down the rocky overhang. As we continued, we finally came to the spring that created it. I was transfixed. In the middle of these damp leaves, filling the air with that familiar fragrance of woods and walks, water was gently bubbling up from the ground. It was this small spring that created that beautiful waterfall I had walked past for years before, flowing right into the much more mighty Mississippi. That was a watershed moment for me. I began to see and be in awe of how water flows, how waters are connected.

I would suspect that many of you have similarly had a pivotal memory or experience of coming to know water. From what I hear, you all are very connected to water, which I would imagine – when I looked up a map of your watershed, the Shingle Creek watershed, I noticed some little pockets of blue near FLW on the map - the Twin Lakes, Crystal Lake, Ryan Lake, Palmer Lake, and Single Creek itself as it meanders to the Mississippi, not far upstream from where I had my own moment of connection in my childhood. Water connects us, and it grounds us to place in a unique way. After all, regardless of if you live on or near a lake, you live in a watershed – these beautiful water systems that point to where water flows when precipitation lands. I like the image of watershed as turning an umbrella upside-down in the rain – everywhere that water lands inside the watershed collects in the same place. All the waters here - connect to the Mississippi, which is, as a major watershed, a huge basin that covers almost 2/3rds of the US, gathering together the Minnesota River, Missouri River, Platte River, The Ohio, The Arkansas, and The Red River.

On the note of naming and understanding waters and watersheds, we began in Genesis, with the winds moving over the watery deeps and then, in the second creation narrative, we see a naming of water and watersheds. Here again, water is the beginning of the story of creation. Before really getting into this narrative about humanity, we learn of the rivers and their connection to the land. First the river Pi-shon, that waters the land of Ha-vi-lah. Then Gihon that flows through the land of Cush, and finally the Tigris and Euphrates are named. Notice, that not only is water given prime significance – the waters are not only named, but are connected to the land that they water. The scripture actually names the watersheds. And immediately after, God places this new earth-formed human being of dust and breath, into the watershed – in the garden at the headwaters, actually, as the rivers were named as flowing out of the place of Eden – and is told to till and keep it. That’s a pretty big responsibility, considering what happens at the headwaters affects everything downstream – the whole of creation in the story of Genesis.

Knowing and tending our watershed is not only important, it’s the first thing that God calls humanity into; it’s the responsibility that opens the relationship between God and humanity. We often read this section creation narrative as one of a “fall” in the sense of humanity falling from a perfect ideal, fallen from a superior state to a lesser state. But, to use the words of Terrence Fretheim, it’s helpful not to think so much of a fallen ideal, but a falling apart of relationship. And the earth, the soil and the water, the watershed, is not just the backdrop, but a character in the story, a part of God’s creating, relating, redeeming, and is squarely in the middle of God’s relationship with humanity. As the narrative unfolds, we see the breakdown of relationship in the drama of Cain and Able. Now as I mentioned, I’m no expert at keeping the peace with a brother who so easily gets on my nerves. But when Cain becomes jealous, something of enormous consequence happens – he takes Able into the field, this place where rain waters the earth and brings forth food, where Able is about the work of tending and keeping, in the watershed outside the lands of Eden. That is the place where Cain rises up against Able and kills him, and his blood sinks into the soil. If you read carefully, you’ll notice that it’s this soil that cries out to God, blood-drenched earth that received the violence and injustice. The earth suffers – it was watered not with rain but with blood. God hears this cry of the earth and goes to Cain to ask, “What have you done?” There’s all sorts of breakdown in relationship after that, there is brokenness between God and humanity, there is alienation between humanity and the earth. Throughout the OT, we continue to see this pattern play out – in the imagination of ancient Israel, which was, by the way, an agrarian community, when the relationship between God and humanity is good, the earth flourishes, and when the relationship suffers, often because of injustice between people, creation languishes. For the prophets the alienation and destruction of the land remains clear indicator of humanity’s sinfulness, brokenness, and unjust behavior. Just here these words from Isaiah 24 – “The earth languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants…”

So what does this mean to us today? It’s certainly no secret that our fragile and finite planet is languishing. What does it say that our waters are so polluted? That our earth is suffering?

This isn’t just a crisis for the environment, this is a crisis of our faith. And it is a moment in which we’re beginning to grasp this and open a deeper conversation. The Pope in his encyclical, Laudato ‘Si has drawn us back into a theologically grounded perspective on how the degradation of our natural resources is a moral issue, how it deeply affects the poor and marginalized, how it calls to question our patterns of consumption and exploitation. These are hard questions, and deeply theological questions.

It’s not that we haven’t talked about care for the earth as people of faith in the past and in our history, but to use a water metaphor, we have often done so in a way that’s been a mile wide and an inch deep… so how do we dive into the watery depths? It can be scary, it requires a leap of faith – as my little brother who was scared of even a small stream could tell you. But it reconnects us, it invites us into the Gods work of healing and restoring in a world experiencing brokenness, and after all, these watery deeps are a holy place, where we meet God, where the winds of the spirit are moving.

I know these days I find these questions very hard and overwhelming sometimes – we’re faced with the statistics that the majority of lakes and rivers in southern MN are too polluted for swimming and fishing, we put pipelines through our waters, entrenched in a systems where we’re dependent upon a system based in extraction rather than sustainability, and in my own home state of Nebraska, I see that mighty Platte River and Ogala aquifer diminishing from industry demands coupled with hotter and hotter years on record – my mentor in photography is a wildlife photographer who has actually documented fish not being able to migrate but being trapped in pockets of where the river has dried up and no longer connects, a sad face of what we’re currently up against with our climate instability.

Yet, I find a word of hope in our texts for this Sunday – you all were very patient with me straying from our lectionary Gospel text to talk Genesis and Watershed instead of Lazarus, but this Old Testament reading for this Sunday that gets paired with Lazarus – the story of the Valley of Dry bones, speaks a word of hope. You see, we left off with blood-drenched soil and alienation, but come then later in our ancient scriptures to this story that returns to the dust, wind, and place of brokenness – with the radial notion of prophesying hope, to a people who see their future as nothing but despair.

Can I just say, that when I went back to read the text for this week, I read it differently coming with this notion of water? I’ve found that in this work on water and justice it has changed the way that I read scripture. Because visiting this text again, I saw something different – the valley, which is very dry, is actually at the bottom of what should be a watery basin. The valley should be the last and least expected place to find dust and dry bones – it would mean the entire watershed has dried up. And in fact, if you go earlier in the text, the chapter prior in Ezekiel, you see that valleys are named almost interchangeably with watercourses, in juxtaposition to the mountains and hills. Chapter 36 verse 4 picks up “Thus says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, the watercourses and the valleys…” and what is it that these valleys hear? A word of hope and new life amidst what seems like utter death and hopelessness. Later in Ch 36 right before the story that we read this morning the prophet rights “The land that was desolate shall be tilled… And they will say, This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, then the nationals shall know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt and the ruined places, and replanted that which was desolate.” Hear O mountains, hear O valleys and watercourses… This story about dry bones, about the people of God being given life, identity, land, belonging, a new future filled with promise – all happens in a watershed context, in a valley that should be coursing with vital waterways, that is dry to the bone but then brought to life with the breath of God.

I think this speaks to us deeply today. We’re talking about what happens around water and stewardship in this congregation and community today – when the rain falls if it waters and nourishes the neighborhood or leaves us more polluted, who our neighbors are, who is downstream from us, and how we can be called into an ecology of community through taking a closer look at our waters. Thank you, for diving in with me, and courageously holding these questions in mind.

Then, I find this challenge to call us into community. Watersheds help us with this. After all they are a way of designating a local ecology. We’re used to drawing straight lines to make sense of our communities. Just look at a map of the Midwest – you see a lot of square-like shapes. We get use to thinking about our community spaces as hovering above the land, rather than in connection and relationship with it. Watersheds invite us reimagining these boundaries in ways that calls us into community. We find unlikely neighbors. Last year during lent I preached out at St. John’s Lutheran in Mound and I realized that I was in the same watershed as at Calvary Lutheran Church where I’m a member in South Minneapolis. The same place where I taught art to low-income students during the summer while I was doing my undergrad studies. I worried about them getting into the water when we would walk to Powderhorn because of how gross that water is, both smelly and clearly polluted to the point of being unsafe, and would take them on a couple of occasions to Lake Nokomis – watching them splash and delight in the water, which believe me, was always the highlight of the week’s activities. These experiences remind me that we have a lot of beautiful treasured waters, we also have a lot of problems with our waters – another watershed neighbor, Sean Connaughty who lives near Lake Hiawatha walks around the lake every singe day, picking up trash out of the water. Since May of last year he’s collected more than 1,500 pounds of trash.

Given that watersheds reflect a confluence of different pollution issues it’s easy for watershed neighbors to treat each other more like siblings than co-creators, to pointing fingers about the problems that harm our water – everything from discarded trash, to sprawling turf grass, to agricultural runoff, to all the cement and salt of dense urban areas, to point-source pollution. We’re all a part of communities that in some way are a part of the problems that we face, but we need all of us to be doing the work to be a part of the solution. We can be intentional and grounded as communities of faith to take on these complexities rather than assume we can do nothing. We may not all literally be in the same boat, but we do share a watershed. So my word to you is to opening some deeper and honest conversation about the opportunities and challenges of this community. I don’t know exactly what that will look like because I don’t live here and know all of you, but I am your watershed neighbor and share in this Lutheran tradition. So I invite you all to reflect and spend time thinking about what all this means in your context.

Wendell Berry argued that the question "is not how to care for the planet but how to care for each of the planet's millions of human and natural neighborhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one of which is in some precious way different from all the others." Wendell Berry recognized that we suffer from displacement and disconnectedness, starting with our own back yards connects us to our ecology, our community, and through those networks of water and soil, to the whole of God’s creation.

So. Where are we now? With the dust of earthen ashes still lingering on our foreheads, we trace that sign with water. In this Lenten journey, we are in a time between the “dust to dust” of Ash Wednesday and the baptismal waters of Easter Vigil – the time of year in the early church when new members were baptized into the community. In this season of contemplation and journey to the cross, we go with this God who suffers with humanity, whose heavens languish together with the earth, who calls us to the cross, from the earthy place of ashes and dust to the tree of cross, ultimately a tree of life. The waters that shape up seal our forehead in the same shape, cleansing waters of promise that claim and restore us. We hold these realities together – we delve into the deep, embrace the brokenness, lean into the challenge, and yet hold to this watery promise of spirit stirring, inviting us through it all into hope and healing. Amen.


On Blindness & Boldness


On Blindness & Boldness

Grace and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!

    What a curious text we have this morning. (John 9:1-41) What shall we do with it? I could read it again, but that would fill up half of my preaching time. This is a curious text, because Jesus is relatively absent for most of it. He comes in at the beginning and ending, kind of like bookends to a story. This chapter of John is really the story of the blind man that Jesus healed, and everything he went though after Jesus entered his life. So let's take a look.

    So, Jesus and his disciples are walking along, and they see a bind man. The disciples ask Jesus who's to blame for the man's blindness. You see they're thinking back to Moses and the Ten Commandments, where God says that God will revisit the evil that person does for three or four generations. So, the disciples think that because someone messed up, this man is blind, and they want to know who's fault it is. But Jesus answers that it wasn't this man or his parents. There's a lesson in itself. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. But God can even use the bad things for good, and so this is where Jesus steps in. Jesus knows what this man needs, and seeks to do the will of God, and so he spat into the dirt, made mud, and rubbed it into the man's eyes. Now, I'm not an eye doctor, but I don' think that's how curing blindness works. I generally try to keep dirt out of my eyes, but in this case, Jesus knows what he's doing. Just as in the beginning, when God created man from dirt and the word, Jesus was creating anew. Jesus sends the blind man to the pool of Siloam to wash, and then the man came back being able to see.

    What follows for the man is a huge legal battle, as neighbors, onlookers, and the Pharisees all try to have their say about what really happened. No one can seem to believe that this man, blind from birth, can now see. First the neighbors argued whether it was the same blind man or not. Then the pharisees argued that the person who did the healing couldn't be from God, he worked on the Sabbath! When the blind man tries to speak in his own defense about what happened, no one believes him. So the people call in the formerly blind man's parents to testify that yes, this is their son, and yes, he was born blind, and no, we don't know how or who healed him. But it's okay to ask him about it, he's of legal age to speak for himself. When they talk to the formerly blind man again, they try to get him to claim their side of things, and have him call Jesus a sinner. They just wanted to be right, they didn't care what actually happened. But when the formerly blind man told them the same things as what he did before, they became angry and drove him out.

    So, now it's time for Jesus to re-enter the story. Jesus had heard that this man had been driven out, and came and found the man. Understandably, it had been a rough first day with having sight. Jesus asks the man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” to which the man replies with a question, asking who is the Son of Man. When Jesus reveals that he his that person, the formerly blind man responds with “Lord, I believe,” and worships Jesus. Jesus responds by saying that he came into the world so that those who can't see may now see, and those who claimed to be able to see would now be blinded.

    So, what do we do with this text. Well to start out, I want to talk about two things, blindness and boldness. On blindness, John's gospel has several mentions of light/dark, seeing/blindness paradoxes. You see, the man that this story centers around faced physical blindness all of his life. Then Jesus entered, and took the blindness away. There are several times throughout John's gospel that Jesus claims that he is the light of the world. By comparison, the Pharisees claim that the could see all along. And here's a funny twist: The blind man sees what the Pharisees do not. The only way people can approach the light of God shown in the person of Jesus is acknowledging their own blindness. Approaching Jesus pretending to know (Nicodemus) or to see (Pharisees) amounts to spiritual blindness. As the chapter progresses, “blindness” moves from a physical to a spiritual level. By the end, the blind man not only sees in a physical way but also believes, receives spiritual light.

    And now on boldness: Recently, there's been a statue in the news. There is a giant bull statue on Wall street. It stands at about eleven feet tall, and weighs about 7,100 pounds. It's head is lowered, it's nostrils are flared, and it's horns are ready to go. But this isn't the statue that is in the news that I'm talking about. The statue I'm talking about is a recent addition that is a little girl that stands feet apart, hands on hips, chest out, and chin up, facing down the bull. You see, I can imagine that this was the position of the blind man as he stood up to the pharisees. They had all the power, all the ability, and all the strength to make things happen in the community in that day. And here was a man, so small an inconsequential, that they weren't even willing to listen to what he was saying.

    Dear friends in Christ, today's gospel lesson is about blindness and boldness. You see, during the season of Lent, we talk about what God has done for all of us through Jesus Christ. Christ died a horrible death for you, for you, for all of us, and for me. And now God is still at work in our lives today through the Holy Spirit. Now, there are times that can see God at work in our lives, in the big things and small things. But there will always be someone or someones to try to bury us under legal work. “Did God really do that in your life?” “Are you sure that it wasn't something else?” Dear friends in Christ, take heart. God loves you so much that Jesus Christ would die for you so that all of us can live lives of redemption and grace. We know that God works in our lives, even without us asking God to do so, and God can even work evil and turn it into good. And so my prayer for you is that when you see and when you speak about what God has done in your live, you too may stand with hands on hips, chest out, and chin up, facing down the bull, and tell others what God has done in your life.

Thanks be to God, Amen.

Photo credit: “The Wall Street Bull” by herval is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Jesus Is Thirsty


Jesus Is Thirsty

John 4:5-42New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)


Jesus was thirsty.

It’s noon on a hot summer day in a semi-desert land. The disciples had gone off to buy food and supplies and had left Jesus by Jacob’s well – but with no bucket or even a cup. So of course Jesus was thirsty. There was plenty of water – but no way to get a drop of it.

A Samaritan woman comes to get water. Most women came in the morning – not in the heat of the day – and they would come together. It was a social gathering. But there was an unwritten social order about who gets the first water, the freshest water … and this woman was last. And she came alone.

Jesus asks her for water. It sounds like a simple request. But it surprises the Samaritan woman. It’s clear that Jesus is a Jewish rabbi. But in that simple request, Jesus has just broken all sorts of cultural and religious rules: Jews don’t talk with Samaritans; they don’t touch things that Samaritans touch – for fear of becoming unclean, men don’t talk with women, and no one, it seems, talks with her.

But Jesus does. And he not only talks to her – but he offers her a gift: life giving water.

Again the woman is surprised – life giving water? From a man with no bucket?

But she is eager to take it. She sounds pretty practical – after all, then she wouldn’t have to come to this well every day, in the heat of the day, to draw water and carry it. But this is not all Jesus offers. He invites her to bring her husband. She tells the truth – but not all of it. She says: she has no husband. Jesus responds by also telling the truth – the whole truth.

Jesus knows who she is – and all her heartache. He knows that she has had five husbands and that the one she is living with is not her husband. He doesn’t say why – many readers have since speculated. But Jesus doesn’t. He knows her circumstances – but he does not chastise or judge her or rub salt in her wounds. Instead, he just acknowledges that this has been her life – and then when the woman speaks of her faith, that she is waiting for the Messiah, Jesus tells her who He is – plainly and simply: I am He – and just to be clear he adds, “the one who is speaking to you.”

The conversation started with a simple request – Jesus asking for a drink of water. Jesus was thirsty. She had a jar. They were by the well. It sounds like a simple question – with a simple solution. But a whole host of cultural, religious and ethnic barriers normally would have stood in the way.

But Jesus breaks the rules and breaks down barriers and invites relationship. Jesus engages the woman in authentic, vulnerable, and open conversation. And the Samaritan woman is transformed and propelled to action. Leaving her jar with Jesus – arguably her most precious possession – after all, even Jesus needed a bucket or jar of some kind to get water – she goes to the city to tell her story. Something has happened to her. She is not only healed and transformed within – but then…she is restored to community.

Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan women can remind us and teach us a few very important lessons.

First: It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done: Jesus seeks relationship with you – an honest relationship. Jesus tells the truth and then offers love, forgiveness, restoration and transformation. Just as he offered to the Samaritan woman, Jesus offers life-giving water for you.

This not a new lesson - you already know this. You know that you have been named and claimed as God’s child at your baptism –and renewed and restored by Christ’s body and blood at Christ’s table. We have reminded one another of God’s free life-giving waters of forgiveness and mercy. But…just in case you don’t know this – let me proclaim it right now: You are God’s beloved child. Together, we are the body of Christ here, in this place.

But this story also teaches us that we have something to offer, we have something worth sharing. As the Samaritan woman demonstrates: You don’t have to be a rabbi, priest or pastor to share Good News. It was because of her witness that the Samaritans came to believe. And it didn’t even sound like a compelling witness – she went to them and said, “He couldn’t be the Messiah – could he?” The assumed answer to that question is “No,” And yet… they came to see… and believed.

And finally – in this story, Jesus calls us to break down barriers to relationships. Jesus calls us into conversation and relationship with the “other.” It can begin by simply noticing our neighbors and then opening the door for relationship. The transformation of the Samaritan woman started by Jesus asking for a cup of water because he was thirsty.

Jesus dares to be authentic, vulnerable, and open to receiving help; Jesus breaks the rules and breaks down barriers and invites relationship. As the body of Christ here in this place, we are called to do that too. The question is: do we dare?

It takes a risk. It takes being vulnerable – but I think that Jesus Christ is calling us to do that – break down barriers between people and invite relationships.

When I was working at Augustana years ago I led a Bible study with a woman named Mona. She and I had radically different interpretations of the Bible. We often disagreed – vigorously. And yet… we both knew that the other was a Child of God who was not only loved by Jesus but also was seeking to follow Jesus. That was where we began and ended each Bible study – acknowledging the belovedness of the “other.”

We all probably do not agree on every issue either. And yet...we acknowledge that we are all beloved children of God – and that together we are the body of Christ. Acknowledging that we all need and receive God’s forgiveness and mercy, we can dare to have honest and loving conversations. We can do this both within our walls and in the world around us - because we have something to offer. The world needs our voice.

Our world, our country, our community is divided in so many ways – culturally, religiously, ethnically, politically… and these divisions cause great anxiety. Currently there is anxiety over whether programs like Dinner at Your Door will continue to receive funding to serve people in our neighborhood; there is anxiety from seniors next door as to whether they will be able to afford their housing; there is anxiety over immigration and refugees.

This is a time for the people of God, the body of Christ – to offer a third way to the polarity around us. This third way is Jesus’ way. It is a way not filled with hate against the other – but filled with love, Christ’s love. We can be the bearers of love and -- something that may seem hard to find these days – hope. But the hope that we bear is not an empty hope, for it is based in the love of Christ that is poured out for us – and for poor, the stranger, the immigrant, the neighbor… And…since Jesus offers life-giving water –to you and me and to all who are called “other” – let us remember to share a cup of water with our neighbor too – because Jesus is still thirsty. And, as Jesus has said, whenever we offer even a cup of water to one of these “others” – we give it to him. Amen



Apostle's Creed: "I Give My Heart ..."

What three things/people/places/ideas do you value the most? What is most important to you? I met a lawyer once who proudly proclaimed that three things were important to him, and they were: Golf, Work, and Family – in that order. It did not surprise me that he had been divorced twice and his current marriage was in trouble.

What about you? Who or what takes first, second and third place in your heart? Creeds are statements of what is most important in our lives, of what we say we believe in. But they are not just academic – a list of what we agree to philosophically. Creeds also proclaim who or what we trust with our hearts, our souls, our lives.

The first known creed, the first communal statement of faith, is found in Deuteronomy: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” It’s called the Shema. This declaration of faith in One God was the core belief of the Jewish people at the time and still is today. The verse that follows it is the response of the people to their faith and is what Jesus calls the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

This was the faith of the people of God in Jesus’ day: One God. But after the resurrection of Jesus, followers of Jesus began to proclaim another simple statement of faith: Jesus is Lord.

As the faith grew and spread, people who had not met Jesus began to ask questions: – how could they proclaim one God – and yet also proclaim Jesus as God? And what was the Holy Spirit? Christians were asked – did they have one God – or two – or three?

The leaders of the faith found they needed a resource, a creed, to explain, proclaim and defend their faith. So, in the year 124, church leaders, using scripture and the teachings of the apostles as a basis, wrote a Roman creed as a summary of faith and as a teaching tool. This was later expanded to become the Apostles’ Creed to help share the mystery of One God – in three persons, God the father and creator; God the son and redeemer and God the Holy Spirit and sanctifier.

In 1529, Martin Luther wrote the small catechism to help parents teach their children not only the basics of the creed, but also to apply it to their lives. It still applies today because Luther helps make it personal. Believing – or trusting – that God is the creator means, as Luther says, that God has created ME – eyes, ears, mouth nose, limbs -- my whole body. It means trusting that God has created and provided an abundance of everything I need.

Likewise, believing in Jesus Christ means trusting that Jesus is indeed God and human. And that Jesus suffered and died and rose again “in order that I may belong to Christ and serve Christ Jesus.”

And, in the final article, Martin Luther emphasizes the power of the Holy Spirit in his life. He credits the Holy Spirit for drawing him to Christ, forgiving him and sustaining him in the faith.

Luther teaches that the creed more than a profession of faith. It reflects our engaging on-going relationship with God – creator, redeemer and sustainer.

As I was preparing to teach and preach on the creed, I came across a suggestion: don’t simply proclaim your faith in the Apostles’ creed – pray it!

I appreciated the sentiment. It is easy for something you say regularly to become rote. But it did not sound very practical – until I read a response from a woman named Kim who did just that – she prayed the creed and found it transformative!

Kim wrote, “The first time the Apostle’s Creed began to change from a statement of belief to an actual prayer was about a year after my husband died at the young age of 33. I had only recently returned to church after about 10 years in the agnostic camp. I was definitely a seeker and wasn’t really sure what I believed. Then one day I happened to ask my pastor what the communion of saints meant. He explained that it was the community of believers in every time and every place that is joined together in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. He went on to explain that we believe that this whole community is present together at the communion table through the body and blood of Christ.

At the time this was powerful good news because it gave me a way to connect with my late husband in a way that was life giving and hopeful. I began to see the creed not just as rote words that we recite week after week but as an actual prayer – a life line – something that was meaningful in worship – something that gave me hope and fed my fledgling faith.”1

It changed her life. She stopped arguing with the parts of creed that she questioned with her head – and started praying from her heart.

Interestingly enough, that may have been the intention of the creeds all along.  The Apostles Creed begins with the Latin word “Credo”, which is usually translated as “I believe…” But the Latin word “Credo” actually means something closer to: “I give my heart to”. Using this translation, the Apostles’ creed reads: I give my heart to God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I give my heart to Jesus Christ…I give my heart to the Holy Spirit.”2

Brothers and sisters in Christ, may you give your heart to God and may the Holy Spirit continue to call you through the gospel, enlighten you with God’s gifts, make you holy and keep you in the true faith in Jesus’ name. Amen.


2 Article “What is a Christian” From Dr. Borg’s blog on Patheos:


God Loves the WHOLE World!


God Loves the WHOLE World!

John 3:1-17

1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." 3 Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." 4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, "You must be born from above.' 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." 9 Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" 10 Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 "Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Jesus said, “The wind blows where it chooses,” We certainly saw evidence of that this past week. What a powerful, mighty and untamable wind! The Holy Spirit is like that: powerful, mighty, untamable and uncontrollable.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, comes to Jesus in the dark of night. Now… why would an upstanding citizen have to seek out a rabbi in the middle of the night? Why couldn’t his question wait until morning? The Gospel of John doesn’t say – but maybe he did not want the other Pharisees to see him. Or maybe he just had a question. Or maybe he just couldn’t sleep. Maybe…but it may also be that the Holy Spirit was working on Nicodemus.

Nicodemus’ last words in this passage are: “How can this be?” Jesus has him stumped. But this is not the end of Nicodemus’ story. More on him later.

In the meantime, Jesus says one of the most powerful and memorable verses in scripture: John 3:16.

Martin Luther called John 3:16 the Gospel in a nutshell. This Bible verse tells what God did – God Loved and God Gave. God loved the Word and Gave God’s son. Why: So that EVERYONE who believes in him may have eternal life.” This is a promise. This is Gospel. This is Good News.

This past week Lynn, a technician from the City of Minneapolis Waterworks department came to my house to install a new meter. My basement is kind of dark in the corner where the meter is so I stood and held a light for her while she worked. She asked me what I was busy doing, I confessed that I was writing my sermon. She then asked, “Oh, what’s the message?” When I told her that I was preaching on John 3:16&17, she said, “John 3:16?” like at the football games?

‘Yes, I said, “John 3:16. For God so loved the World…

Oh, she said, “We had a guy who had John 3:16 on a bunch of his shirts – he was always wearing it.”

I was getting excited but before I could say anything she said… “What a hypocrite! The management had to walk him to the gate. He was caught stealing.”

So… instead of extolling his witness, I ended up bemoaning with her that we are not perfect but are all sinners – and that we often fall short of being the people that God made us to be.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I always have the best thing to say to people after they leave. I wish I could have talked with her about the NEXT verse because it helps explain the more famous John 3:16. But she was busy doing her job, drilling a hole in my basement so I had to do my witnessing by holding a light for her.

But our conversation got me thinking. John 3:16 is well known – and that is good. But too often people treat it as a litmus test for belief or as a sweet saying. It’s not either of those. As Jesus explains in the next Verse, "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God sent Jesus because God’s love is bigger and more expansive than we imagine – big enough to include the whole world..

John 3:16 is actually quite radical because, when Jesus is talking about the world -– he is not talking about God’s beautiful creation. Jesus is talking about the world he lives in, a world that is very much like the world that we are living in today, a world that is less than welcoming – even hostile to God’s message.

To make the point, one theologian suggests that we could translate John 3:16 and 17 as: “For God so loved the God-hating world, that he gave his only Son…” and “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn even this world that despises God but instead, so that the world, that rejects God, might still be saved through Christ.”1 God’s love is gracious and inclusive.

We tend to find it easier to identify differences than similarities. Remember the old children’s song: “One of these things is not like the other...” From the time we are children we are taught to distinguish between things: us and them, what’s out and what’s in, what’s the same and what’s different and that’s often what we do with people too – focus on differences.

I was at a pastor meeting last week and one of the pastors told about an event in Finland. Invitations for this event went out to a very diverse group of people and so, when they came, it wasn’t surprising that they looked quite different from one another. Some who came were dressed in executive style suits and others had torn jeans. Some were young and some were retired. As they came into the room, typically people would look around and then seek out people who “looked like them.”

When it was time to begin, the facilitator asked them to form a circle. And then he said, “Would those of you who hugged or kissed a child goodbye this morning please come to the center. They did. And as they did – they smiled at one another and recognized their commonality as parents or caregivers, a commonality that rose above their differences in clothing or age. Then he said, “Would those who love their jobs come into the center… and then those who hate their jobs… and so on.” Again and again, various people came forward and began to see the “others” in a different light. Then the facilitator said, “Would those who are bisexual come into the circle?” One person stepped into the middle of the circle. And when people realized there was only one – they gasped. But the facilitator turned to the one lone person in the middle and said, “Thank you. Thank you for the courage to stand alone.” And all the people clapped and cheered.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God loves the WHOLE world – even the God-hating world. We, as a the body of Christ, are called to live out God’s message of love for the world, the whole world, even the God-hating world. We are called to cheer for one another in both our similarities and our differences. And, we are called to support and stand up for those who are alone, who are threatened and who are treated as “other” or “less than.”

Last month I received an email about a bomb threat had been sent to a Jewish Community Center in downtown Minneapolis. They were asking pastors for support. I signed it immediately and so did many other pastors. The leaders of the Jewish Community Center sent us each a letter back, thanking us for our support. This was an easy decision. Of course we want to stand with our brothers and sisters in the faith against hatred.

We need to stand with God’s people whenever a group of people are threatened - even if they are different from us. Whether the “other” is poor, hungry, an immigrant, a Jew or a Muslim, we are called, by Christ, to love and care for and stand up for the “other.”

But it won’t always be easy. There may be times that we don’t all agree on how to love and care for the “other.” At those times we will have to pray for the Holy Spirit to lead and direct us.

I think that’s what happened to Nicodemus. Nicodemus begins as a cautious but curious rule-abiding Pharisee. Later in the Gospel he dares to speak up, urging restraint. At the end of the Gospel, Nicodemus is at foot of the cross, caring for the body of Jesus. We don’t know the whole story of how it happens but clearly Nicodemus grows in his discipleship – and most of the growth is “off- stage.” Looks like the work of the Holy Spirit to me.

Isn’t that how it is for most of us? Some people have a great “Aha!” moment and transform their lives instantly. But for most of us… the Holy Spirit keeps tugging… keeps working on us… and we pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

That’s one of the reasons why we gather as a community in Christ each week. We come to support and encourage one another in Christian faith, to hear the Word of God and to share the things that keep us up at night. We come together because where two or more are gathered in Christ’s name, God is with us, and the Holy Spirit promises to encourage, empower and help us share God’s love and Grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

1 Dr. David Lose in website:In the Meantime. Lent2A Just one more Verse



The 10 Commandments & What they Mean for Us as Biblical Law

Peace and grace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus, Christ Amen!

    Good evening, everyone. Tonight we are talking about the 10 commandments, and what they mean for us as Biblical Laws. As many of you here are parents or have had some kind of rules in your life, you will know that setting boundaries is important. They are an important part of being a parent, a friend, really any kind of relationship that you might have. Having proper boundaries for what is and is not okay is important, because it keeps others and ourselves in check, and makes sure that we can stay in relationship. Now, as Lutherans, we might be tempted to say “the Law? Boo, hiss! Why do we need that? We have Christ.” But I want to remind you that Christ came to fulfill the Law. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. '” (Matthew 5:17-18) And if Jesus talked about it like this, you know that it is important.

So, I want to ask you something real quick: Who here is an oldest child? You might be the ones the parents set rules for. Alright, and now who is a middle child? You were probably the ones that the rules got tested on. And any youngest children? Yeah, the rules probably don't apply to you the same way they did for your sibling. At least that's my family experience. But all the same, we need rules for our households. The same is true for our relationship to God. In the beginning, those boundaries got crossed, and creation wound up in a mess. So after claiming the Israelites as God's people, God knew that there would need to be some rules so that they could continue to get along. So, let's talk about the Commandments.

    If you'd like to follow along, I invite you to join me on page 1160 of your red hymnal. Now talking about the Ten Commandments for me is a challenge, because I know that I could make this an entire Lenten session. But given that I only have a few minutes, let's see what I can do. So, first off, you will notice that the first three commandments deal with God, and the other seven deal with other humans. First, let's focus on God.  The first three commandments, 1. I am the lord your God, you shall have no other Gods before me, 2. You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain, and 3. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Okay. These are about giving God God's place in our life. If we are able to keep these, we should be able to have a good foundation for a relationship with God. Now, there are many ways we can honor God with our worship, and they all stem from these three commandments. You see, when God first gave these commandments, the Israelites were newly out of Egypt, a nation that had many gods. And so God set up his rules to set God apart from the other gods so that the Israelites knew who and how they were to worship. And the Israelites struggled, just as people struggle today with their own worship today. But God loved the people, and knew that they needed to be taught a better way of living and worshiping.

    Next, let's talk about the other seven commandments, which are the ways in which God wants us to take care of our neighbors. We've got 4. Honor your mother and father, 5. you shall not murder, 6. you shall not commit adultery, or cheat on your partner, 7.  you shall not steal, 8. You shall not bear false witness, or lie and slander your neighbor, 9. Don't covet your neighbor's house, and 10. don't covet anything in your neighbor's house or yard, including the people. Okay. These are a bit harder, especially that one about slander during election season. These are the commandments that were set down so that we know how to help care for our neighbors. What these commandments are telling us is that our faith is not all about us as individuals. Let me say that again: Our faith is NOT all about us. The first three commandments are about how we should be in our relationship with God, and giving God's proper place, whereas the other seven are about us and our relationship with our neighbor. It's not all about us as individuals. God knew that because humans need to work together to survive, we would need a set of rules to make sure that we could stand to be around one another.

    So tonight we talk about the ten commandments. You see, as Lutherans, we have a faith that combines both law and Gospel. As Lutherans we see that there are three uses of the law. The first is that that the law helps to curb sinful nature. And while it does not stop sin, it prevents sin from completely breaking out. The second way that we use the law is like a mirror, as the law reflects how God created the human heart and life to be. And finally, the Law is used as a guide to help us towards better lives. Now, we also know that the law can't do everything, and it's through the grace that God gave us that we are able to live and love in this world and the next. And for that we can turn and say “thanks be to God. Amen!”


You are Good Enough for God to Love

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You are Good Enough for God to Love

If someone asked you, “Who are you?” -- how would you describe yourself?

It might depend on who was doing the asking. If you were in an airport – facing a ticket counter or a customs agent – you might declare – I’m an American.. and state your name. And then you would bring out a drivers license and passport to prove it. If you were at a family reunion, you probably would share your parents or grandparents names and look at a family tree to prove it. If you were at a job interview, you might talk about your strengths - and share your references to prove it. If you were on a computer, you would type in your password, again to prove you were who you said you were. But since you are here – and you just heard the children’s sermon – you would just as likely say, “I am a child of God!” And you would not need to “prove it” because God has declared it to be so.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew answers the question of “Who is Jesus?” by beginning with Jesus’ family tree. Jesus is the answer to the covenant promised to Abraham & Sarah and to David and Bathsheba and through the prophets of the exile and the return. He’s got credentials. Matthew goes on to show how Jesus is the answer to the prophecies both old and new and is the answer to the prayers of star gazers and wise sages from the East. Again, he’s got credentials. Finally, the newest prophet, John the Baptist, baptizes Jesus and a voice from heaven comes down to say, “This is my beloved Son.” That’s better than a passport, driver’s license, passwords, references or security questions. It would seem as if Jesus would not need to “prove” who he is. After all, God has declared it to be so!

And yet, Jesus is sent out into the wilderness [Matthew 4:1-11]. In the Old Testament, the wilderness was often used as a time of testing. There’s no distractions, no internet and no social engagements. But… there is the devil, otherwise known as “Satan.”

The term “Satan” literally means “adversary” or “opposed.” We so often imagine the devil or Satan as a human-like figure or evil power figure – and in some ways it can be helpful to personify evil. But it can also be dangerous – because the power of evil is not so easily contained. And as we see from the craftiness of the serpent in Genesis and Satan in the Gospel, evil can often use things that are good – like God’s word – to try to trick or deceive. So it might be helpful to think of Satan as “anything that opposes the love of God” and tries to make us think we need something else in order to belong or to be good enough.

When the serpent approached Adam and Eve [Genesis 3:1-7], the serpent, playing the role of the one who is opposed to God’s will and God’s way – sought to separate Adam and Eve from God by tricking them into seeking their own solutions. Eat from the tree of good and evil. How easy it was for Adam and Eve -- and humans ever since-- to trust in their own power – and the seductive words of the serpent – and to mistrust God.

“Satan” tries to play upon Jesus’ human weaknesses: would he trust God or would he take charge - Would he make bread out of stones to feed himself? Would he jump off the temple to prove that the angels would save him? Would he take the power Satan offers? Jesus says no to all of Satan’s challenges… even when Satan starts quoting scripture. Instead of taking the bait, Jesus reminds Satan – the one who is opposed to God’s love -- and reminds us – to and worship God – and no one and nothing else.

Again remember that Satan is “anything that opposes the love of God” and tries to make us think we need something else in order to belong or to be good enough. For Adam and Eve it was an apple leading to wisdom. Satan tried to tempt Jesus with food when he was hungry, status and privilege which belonged to him already and the power of God – which was not Satan’s to give.

Our world has plenty of temptations too. Our consumer culture can sometimes make us feel as if we aren’t worthy or good enough just as we are. After all… what is the basis of advertising? You need this product to be better, stronger, bigger, faster. Which means… you are not good enough the way you are… you need…designer clothes, fast running shoes, the latest appliances, medicines that make you better, stronger, faster, smarter, thinner. The message is: you are not good enough… And people believe it. Too often we believe that we are not good enough, strong enough, fast enough, smart enough or thin enough.

But because God loves the world… including you -- God sent Jesus. And Jesus says to you: you don’t have to be better, stronger, faster, smarter or thinner. You are enough. God loves YOU – just as you are. God claimed YOU. God wants you to be healthy and happy and well but your health is not what makes God love you. God loves you and claims you not because of how good or bad you are – God loves you because that is the nature of God. God loves… You. – You are a beloved Child of God.

But that is not all. You belong. You belong to Christ – in whom you have been baptized. That’s WHOSE you are.

We say this in Church. We are reminded every time someone is baptized. But our identity in Christ goes beyond the walls of the church and beyond Sunday morning. I know that it is harder out there. And so sometimes we need to remind one another of who we are – and whose we are.

This past week I went to visit a member, Linda, who is struggling with dementia. Sometimes she knows who I am – and sometimes she doesn’t. On this day she remembered. And so we chatted for awhile – and I reminded her of you, the body of Christ here at Faith-Lilac Way and I told her that you were praying for her. She smiled. I read scripture to her. Again, she smiled. Then an aide came in the room. After greeting her and telling her who I was, I began to tell this aide who Linda was – how she had been active at church, a ready and capable volunteer, as sharp as they come. I told of the many responsibilities that Linda had undertaken – never wanting to take credit but always doing her part. And as I told the aide this story – I suddenly realized that Linda was listening intently. A glimpse of recognition came to her face as she remembered who she was – and whose she was.

Sometimes it is our job to not only remember whose we are – but to remind one another too. We are the body of Christ – together. And so… I would like to ask you to do something this week. Could you remind at least one person this week of who they are – and whose they are?

Let’s practice. Please repeat after me: You are a child of God. You are a child of God. And that’s good enough for God. That’s good enough for God.

And as you go beyond these walls – it’s good to remind one another – and to be reminded of who we are and whose we are. And remember – you are not alone. For Jesus walks with us too. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Ash Wednesday

Peace and grace to you all from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen!

Thank you all for coming tonight, and let me say, welcome to Lent. Lent is a season of the church that marks 40 days before Easter, and is usually observed through fasting, prayer, and repentance. Some people might even give something up or take on spiritual practices for the next forty days in order to grow closer to God. That being said, our gospel text today shows us how to do Lent right.

    As the old saying goes, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” Typically, this expression means: If you have a great body, don’t hide it under modest attire. Show yourself off for the world to see. If you have a brilliant mind, don’t be humble and unassuming. Expose the genius within. If you have money, spend it so that people know you’re rich. Perhaps you can see the problems with the notion, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” Yet, for some strange reason many Christians assume that this expression is also valid in the realm of faith life. It’s common for Christians to brag about how much they give, how much they pray, how much they serve, and how spiritual they are. Honestly, we’ve all been guilty of this behavior. It’s easy to be spiritually smug and let pride enter into our lives. We all want to be recognized and appreciated for the things that we do. We all want to impress people with our gifts and devotion. Yet, the Bible is clear that we must seek to impress God alone. What this means is that we must check our motives, and take a look at where are hearts are as we do the things we do.

    So, looking at our text today, Jesus starts the lesson with principle: Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them, for you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven. There, I said it. Do I need to preach the rest of this sermon? But Jesus goes more in depth about what he means by this. You see, the Pharisees and other religious leaders at the time had a bad habit of making themselves known when they were performing their religious duties. To them, it wasn't about helping others or growing closer to God. It was about looking the part. When Jesus says that they should not practice faith to be seen, he is telling them that their reward is the temporary adoration of the people watching. God will not reward them for it. They have already gotten the attention that they were seeking. Jesus speaks out against several practices in these verses. First, there's giving alms. This means that when we give to the poor, we should not shout out about how good we are. I live in a generation where there is the question “if you don't post about it on social media, did it really happen?” But what Jesus is saying in this text is that we are not to make a big deal out of our actions. The second thing that Jesus speaks out against is showing praying in public. There is a verse in Luke, about a Pharisee and a tax collector praying in public, and the Pharisee puts on a big show about how important he is. The tax collector, by comparison, stood aside and said “God have mercy on me, a sinner. Jesus gave honor to the lowly, because of their intention of getting closer to God. Jesus never knocked at the righteous, only the self-righteous.

    So, today for Ash Wednesday, we will be doing the imposition of Ashes. You may be wondering if this sign of ashes is contrary to everything I just said about making public displays of piety, but hear me out. In bible traditions, ashes were put on a person's head as a sign of mourning. The shape of the cross is to remind ourselves of our baptismal promise, and that Christ died to atone for our sin. And because we share in a baptism like Christ, we share in a death like Christ. We use the words “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” as we make the cross to remind us of our sinfulness and mortality, and thus, our need for God. This is to start a season in which we remember what God has done for us through Jesus. So, as we journey with you this Lenten season, I would encourage you to remember the reason for why and how you worship God. And for all that God has done for us, we can turn and say “Thanks be to God.” Amen.


You are Salt and Light


You are Salt and Light

The Gospel according to Matthew, the 5th chapter

Jesus said: 13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Completing God’s Law

17-18 “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.

19-20 “Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.  The Message Bible


At the Luther exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts this fall, I noticed 4 hourglasses filled with sand. When I asked what they were for, the guide told us “That’s so that the preacher doesn’t preach too long. After the first one is empty, the second one is tipped over and so on. OK I said. How long is each timer? 15 minutes was the reply. Four 15 minute timers.”  You can do the math. But don’t worry, I’m not going to preach for an hour.

Shorter sermons may be why the designers of the Revised Common Lectionary – that is the group that chooses the readings for each week -- decided to  divide the reading of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount into four parts.

Last week we heard what’s called the “Beatitudes” or “Blessings.” Jesus blesses those that society doesn’t usually call blessed – those who mourn and those who are meek; those who are poor in spirit and those who seek righteousness; those who are persecuted and those who are vulnerable. We learn that Jesus gives us surprising blessings even when – or maybe especially when – we are feeling the least powerful. You are blessed.

You are blessed. That’s a great message, but Jesus is just getting started.  Jesus then tells his disciples: you are salt and you are light. Notice that he doesn’t say: “One day you will be salt” or “Someday you will be light.” No, Jesus calls his followers – and that includes me and you -- the salt of the earth and the light of the world – already.

So what does it mean to be “salt of the earth?”  This past Friday, by Governor Dayton’s command, the flags were flown at half staff in honor of four chaplains who, when their ship was bombed gave up their life jackets to save others. And then they held hands, sang hymns and went down with the ship.  One was Methodist, one was Catholic, one was Jewish and one was Baptist. But they were all “salt of the earth”.

But our actions don’t have to be that amazing or courageous to be “salt of the earth.” After all, just a little bit of salt transforms a bland meal and, in the same way, even small actions can enhance the world around you.

Jesus said, “You are light.” Again, Jesus calls you light rather than promises that you will one day be light.  You are already light.  Light can do two things: Light shines on the path for others showing them – and us -- the path, and, light exposes injustice and evil that lies hidden in darkness. Being light doesn’t have to be dramatic or a flashy big action. Shining even one little light into a dark room changes it. It makes a difference. And it’s something that you and I can do. In fact, you may already be doing it without really acknowledging that this is what you were doing.

For example, maybe you were salt and light this past week or so: by … saying a prayer… helping a neighbor….doing your work faithfully, helping a friend with homework… volunteering… smiling and saying a kind word…serving a meal at a funeral or marching for the sake of your neighbor.  You don’t all have to do the same thing – and it doesn’t have to be a big thing. Remember… it just takes a little salt to make a huge difference. With Jesus, faithful actions – no matter how small – can change the world.

Jesus calls you Salt and Light. And that is what you are. So Jesus challenges us to live into who we are. Jesus says, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket.”  It does no good there. As disciples, followers of Jesus, as baptized children of God, you and I are called as a people and as individuals to let your light SHINE.  

The people of Pelican Rapids did just that. They were salt of the earth for Yusuf, when he came as a refugee 20 years ago or so. Yusuf and his family – his mom and dad and six brothers and sisters – fled the war in Somalia made it to a refuge camp in Kenya where they were screened and vetted again and again by the United Nations. They were there for four years – waiting and hoping and praying for a new life somewhere – anywhere. While they were in the refugee camp – receiving scant rations and minimal health care – five of his brothers and sisters died.

Finally, the day came when they received notice – they were accepted by the United States. Again they were screened. After passing all of the screenings, they were able to fly to New York City. They were met by someone from Lutheran Social Services – LSS - and were taken to a hotel for the night. They unpacked their bags. They thought they were in their new home! But the next day, they discovered they weren’t home yet. They got on another plane and flew to Fargo, N.D. They were met by another Lutheran Social Service member. Yusuf said he remembered looking out onto the prairie land – and wondering, “Is this home?” But no, it turned out that they were then put on a bus and traveled to Pelican Rapids.

At Pelican Rapids, they were met by a group of people who said, “Welcome home.” Yusuf and his family were the first immigrants from Somalia that had come to Pelican Rapids and the people welcomed them in, as neighbors.  The next day, Yusuf started school in the sixth grade, not knowing more than five words of English. But the people of Pelican Rapids were salt and light to Yusuf and his family and helped them overcome barriers of language and culture. For example, when they did not have money for soccer team uniforms, a church opened its doors and they cooked a traditional meal as a fundraiser– and the whole neighborhood came.

Now Yusuf works for LSS seeking to be salt and light – and to help other people and congregations to be salt and light to new neighbors, just as the people of Pelican Rapids had been for him.

Perhaps you saw the story of the little 4 year old girl from Somalia that got caught in the travel ban. Four years ago, her mother received the call – just as Yusuf’s family had – that she and her daughters could go to the United States. She too had been waiting for four years. But the baby was born too soon – and so there were no papers for her. Her mother made the incredibly hard decision to leave her baby with a friend and to take her two daughters and go. As a mother, I can’t imagine having to make that choice. But after 4 years in a refugee camp in which the health and wellbeing of her daughters were at stake – remember Yusuf lost five of his six siblings during his stay in the refugee camp – perhaps the choice wasn’t so hard. She chose life for her older daughters and hope for her baby.

The media reported that the mother contacted Senators Al Franken & Amy Klobuchar and asked him to work on her behalf. What they did not report is that this mother wasn’t acting alone. She had the support of people from LSS acting as salt and light to support her and encourage her and help her.

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” It is so easy to hide our light – and think “someone else” will be that light. But in big ways and small we CAN make a difference. We can be salt – for the hungry neighbors as we share food with through Near Foodshelf or for a hungry person by giving them an emergency packet. We can be light as we share the light in the darkness for those who are immigrants – and join LSS in asking our legislators to make fair and humane immigration laws.  We can be light as we welcome the stranger into our midst – remembering that it is Jesus we welcome whether the name is Husef or Mary or something else.  For regardless of the name,

Jesus reminds us that in serving our neighbor – in being Salt and Light for the neighbor, we are serving him.

Our challenge is to dare to let our light shine before others, to dare to “Go public” with this.  

Let us pray: Jesus, help us to be Salt – to bring out the God flavors of the world, to enhance the lives of our neighbors. And Jesus, teach us to be light, to bring out the God-colors in the world. Help us to dare to go public with this - sharing that God is not a secret to be kept but instead a joy to share. Amen.