AH Ha! God is With Us!


AH Ha! God is With Us!

Today, January 6, is the day of Epiphany. An epiphany can be an “aha” moment, a revelation of sudden insight, a revealing of truth, a manifestation of a divine being. But in the church year, it refers particularly to this story, the story of the Magi and Jesus.  

It is full of everything that makes a good story :

There are the good guys – sometimes called wisemen or kings, but more accurately called Magi.  The magi were astronomers. They studied the sky. They may also have been Zorastrian priests from Persia.

There is also a bad guy. We are introduced to Herod – a powerful brutal king frightened of losing power  -- and willing to kill just about anyone who got in his way. Jesus wasn’t the only one. Herod reportedly killed his own sons when they seemed to be gaining too much power or popularity.

And there is a purpose for the journey. The Magi asked King Herod: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” They give Jesus a title:  king of the Jews, and declare their intention to worship him.

But there is also lots of room for interpretation, imagination and wonder.

Much of what we know or think about the Magi comes from the stories and legends that have been told about these mysterious visitors. For example, because they brought 3 gifts, it was often assumed that there were three Maji. And because the gifts were expensive gifts often given to kings, it was often assumed that they were kings.  We also assume they rode camels since they came from the East, probably over dry and desert land. Sometimes– they are called “wisemen” – like the translation printed in the bulletin – perhaps because they didn’t fall entirely for Herod’s trap. But none of those assumptions are in the Bible. There are no names for the Magi – although one legend names them Melchoir, Gaspar and Bathazar .  And I’ve read other stories about an imagined “4th wiseman who never quite made it to the manger.  It could be that none of them made it to the manger. Despite the scene depicted in many nativity scenes – including mine – most scholars believe the Magi did not arrive on Christmas night… but instead came a bit later.  But we don’t know… so you can keep your “wisemen” or Magi and the camels in your nativity sets. Don’t misunderstand me - the stories that have grown up around the Magi are not bad – in fact it is good to wonder… and to imagine how it might be that Magi from the East came to worship Jesus.  

This past week, Kristin, a friend of mine, asked a group of us to pick a word to think about this year. One person said: Courage. Another said Hope. I said “Wonder.” It is good to wonder… to be open to God’s possibilities… to God’s revelations to us as a congregation, to be open to how God is working in our neighborhood and in our lives.  I’m going to be wondering this year – and I invite you to join me in being open to the Holy Spirit.

As for the Magi – I have often thought of them as seekers… as people on a journey to find Jesus. And it’s true… they are looking for Jesus. But I don’t think that they would have started out on this quest if something hadn’t sparked their interest, if something hadn’t been revealed to them… if they had not had an “epiphany.”

And this is what sparked my interest this past week. After all…. like people in the time of Jesus, our world too has leaders who are nasty and ruthless in their quest for power and control - they may or may not be called kings, but they are operate on the same selfish, egotistical yet childish fears. Like the people of that time, we too have an undercurrent of darkness, strife, and injustice, pain and sorrow in our world.  We mourn when people we love die – too soon – like Valerie and Don and David. We can easily become discouraged when we listen or read or scan the news – especially when we hear stories of our country not welcoming the neighbor, not caring for the elderly, the veterans, the poor and the immigrant.

And yet……while the Magi were not Rabbinic scholars and they did not know the law or the culture and they had no idea what the Hebrew scriptures – our Old Testament Bible --  prophesied… after all…they weren’t even Jewish! Still they set out on a journey with great expense – because God revealed – through a star – that a great King, the King of Israel had been born. And they felt compelled to seek him.

God continues to reveal God’s self in surprising ways to ordinary people – like you and me. God reveals God’s self in the ways that God has promised - in the bread and wine of communion, in the Word of God and in the waters of Baptism… and we, like the Magi,  seek him.

In seeking to follow Jesus, we won’t always get it right. We might make mistakes. After all… that’s what happened to the Magi. I never understood why, after following the star all the way from their distant country, they would suddenly stop following the star and instead ask Herod for directions.

Who knows? I like to imagine that maybe it was because it was cloudy… or maybe they got anxious and tried to travel during the day. Or maybe they just got overly confident in their own understanding.  Or maybe something else. The Bible doesn’t say. And yet… despite the Magi getting off course for a bit, God continued to seek to reveal God’s self to them. Again he sent the star to lead and guide them.

Today is the first Sunday of the year… Epiphany Sunday… the Sunday that celebrates God revealing God’s self to “outsiders” and unexpected people –  including Easterners with a different religion, Gentiles and… people like us. And so I would like to challenge us to do two things this year.

The first is to wonder. Wonder with me what or where may God be calling us as a congregation this year?  And secondly…be bold. Be bold in seeking the one who is seeking you. Sometimes it takes the courage to take the first step – not knowing where the next step will take you.

One of my pastor friends shared an “Epiphany Blessing” with me – that I would like to share with you. Listen for the way that it encourages us to take the path of Christ with courage – not knowing where it will lead.

An Epiphany Blessing by Jan Richardson

If you could see the journey whole…. you might never undertake it; might never dare the first step that propels you from the place you have known toward the place you know not.

Call it one of the mercies of the road: that we see it only by stages as it opens before us, as it comes into our keeping step by single step.

There is nothing for it but to go and by our going take the vows the pilgrim takes:  to be faithful to the next step; to rely on more than the map; to heed the signposts of intuition and dream; to follow the star that only you will recognize;

to keep an open eye for the wonders that attend the path; to press on beyond distractions beyond fatigue beyond what would tempt you from the way.

There are vows that only you will know; the secret promises for your particular path and the new ones you will need to make when the road is revealed by turns you could not have foreseen.

Keep them, break them, make them again: each promise becomes part of the path; each choice creates the road that will take you to the place where at last you will kneel to offer the gift most needed—the gift that only you can give—before turning to go home by another way.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God continues to reveal God’s self to us through the waters of baptism. bread and wine, and the Word of God. But that is not all. God also reveals God’s self through the wonders of God’s world and the surprises along the way. God invites us to be bearers of the light that has come into the world, the light that the darkness neither understands nor has overcome.

May you be open to follow the journey, trusting that God is with you – and us – at each turn, through dark valleys and in the joy of discovering…ah ha! God is with us! Amen.  

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church – January 6, 2019

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.  NIV


  1. Matthew 2:1 Traditionally wise men

  2. Matthew 2:6 Micah 5:2,4





Luke 2:41-52

Let us pray.  Light of life, you came in flesh, born into human pain and joy, and gave us power to be your children. Grant us faith, O Christ, to see your presence among us, so that all creation may sing new songs of gladness. Amen

Surprises can be positive or negative, depending on what the surprise is, and who’s receiving it.

Remembering back to when my firstborn, Leif, was about 2 ½, and we were shopping in a sea of round clearance racks, tightly packed with end-of-season clothing.

I was determined to find the best deals, but Leif was getting restless in the cart, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep one eye on him and one eye on the rack as I rifled through the items.

So, I put him on the floor and asked if he could help me find something specific, like a red shirt, which he did with enthusiasm! But once he found the requested article, he lost interest and crawled under the rack, which began a slightly sophisticated game of peek-a-boo. Leif would poke his delightful little face through the clothes and shout, “surprise!”

This went on for several minutes, and I thought I was pretty clever keeping Leif busy, until, he didn’t pop out. Up until then, he had always stayed right with me.  

I called his name, but got no response. I started looking under the racks around me, but didn’t see any little feet hiding under them. I was getting worried and called his name more urgently. Still no sign or sound – not even a giggle.

I wasn’t sure which direction to look. I was afraid to go too far from our starting point. There was no one around to ask for help, and just as I was about to really lose it, little Leif called out from several racks away, “come and find me mommy, I’m hiding!” I didn’t expect that! So our harmless game of peek-a-boo had become hide and seek, thanks to my precocious toddler and to my chagrin.

I felt extreme relief upon finding him,  concurrently with astonishment that Leif had managed to hide himself and kept silent for those long minutes! When did he learn to play hide and seek? How did I not notice his wandering.? Was this small child capable of such stealth?

Well, since I’d heard his voice I was able to locate him easily, and he jumped out joyfully not having any idea why I would be upset. He was playing and he thought I was playing too. He was developing as children do, generalizing concepts and skills as his world expanded, but it was a wake-up call to me in realizing that he’d continue to grow and develop and I could not assume one day would be the same as the previous. A somewhat scary, yet joyful surprise.

But I hadn’t remained the same either. I was learning to parent this little boy as he developed through infancy and even until today. And his brother too, which is a whole other story!

We aren’t finished being parents just because our children become adults. The growth we can monitor will end – at some point shoe sizes and inseams do stabilize – there will be a final pencil mark on the wall, but change continues whether we observe it or not.  Children become mature versions of themselves, with dreams and hopes and goals that may surprise their families. In the same way, each of us will remain a child in our parents eyes, and in God’s eyes.

In Luke’s gospel, Mary was confronted with the realization that her little boy, Jesus, was becoming more than she had recognized. The infant she nursed, the tears she wiped away, the hurts she comforted, the milestones she celebrated with him, the joy she felt at his delight over simple new experiences had been part of his transformation, as well as hers. Was this event a wake-up call for Mary, a reminder of what her boy would grow into? Perhaps in preparation for the road ahead.

I wonder how Jesus responded to Mary’s question, “Child, why have you treated us like this?”  Was he surprised by their anxiety? Was his response, “Why have you been searching for me?” said in tones of remorse or scolding? Did he comprehend the changes in himself? Was this the first indication of his true calling?

We don’t get many answers about Jesus’s growing up years, but from this one and only story, we know that the infant whose birth we celebrated last week grew to be a walking, talking, thinking person who progressed in wisdom and in years. We know that he was raised in a faithful Jewish family that made the annual trip to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem a priority.

We know that Jesus’s priorities had changed. The will of his heavenly father had superseded the will of Mary and Joseph. Three days they searched for him, and on the third day they found Jesus alive and well in a place that surprised them. Yet their search was over!

And like Mary and Joseph, our search has ended, because Jesus shows us the way to God.  He was born, lived, died and rose to make the way clear for us, even if the road along the way is what we least expect. Our searching ends with new life, meaningful life, the life God intends! Perhaps not what we expect.

And like Jesus, as children of God, we’ll continue to grow in wisdom and in years, in divine and human favor, as we respond to God’s love.  No matter how old we are.

It reminds me of a song written by Chris Rice called, Welcome to Our World. Some of the lyrics go like this:  Fragile finger sent to heal us, tender brow prepared for thorn. Tiny heart, whose blood will save us, welcome to our world.

So wrap our injured flesh around you, breathe our air and walk our sod. Rob our sin and make us holy, perfect lamb of God, perfect lamb of God. Welcome to our world.


The Perfect Gift


The Perfect Gift

The Perfect Gift

Christmas Eve 2018

Ever been stumped as to what to give someone for Christmas?  You don’t have to answer that – especially if that someone is sitting near you in the pew.  

This fall, at our Minneapolis Area Synod’s gathering of clergy, we were asked to bring a gift for someone – we didn’t know who it would be. Oh, I thought – it’s the dice game! I’ve got an enormous flyswatter from the last time that I played that game. I’ll bring that!

It’s a good thing I read the rest of the letter. It went on to say that it should be something that you own, that is important to you, that is worth under $20 and that you should share a story about it with the person who receives it.  That made it harder. What could I give? What would be the perfect gift?

Recently I read a story about a man, Charles, who wanted to give the perfect gift to his family for Christmas.1 So…on Christmas eve, just before dinner, he handed sealed envelopes out to his family - his wife and children and grandchildren and his sister who were sitting around the table.

“What’s this?” asked his daughter.  

Charles explained – that he had been thinking a lot about this day when they would all be together and he did not want to not miss this opportunity to share a special gift with each of them.  

He said, “I’d like you to open these, one at a time. Laura, since you are curious… would you begin by opening your envelope?”  She did. Inside there was a red velvet letter H.

Laura asked, “ The letter H.  What is this for? “

Charles replied: “H is for the beautiful harp music that you play for us – heavenly harp music I might say. I appreciate you sharing your musical talent – that’s a gift for all of us.”

Laura smiled. “Glad you like it.”

Charles said, Tom… why don’t you go next?

“Ok,” Tom said. Tom was about 8 years old and was already tearing into his envelope.  Inside, he found a letter T. “Grandpa, what’s the T for? Toys?”

Grandpa Charles smiled and said, “Kind of… but not just toys… T is for taking time to be together… Taking time together to throw a baseball in the park, to play with the model train, to build a snowman, to tell stories. I wanted you to say: ‘thanks for sharing time with me. ‘

Tom ran over to his Grandpa, threw his arms around him and said, “Oh Gramps… Any time!”

Charles grinned and turned to his son-in-law: “John, why don’t you open yours?”

John quickly opened his envelope and out fell the letter S. “S… Let me guess. Is it for the Star that I put on the tree?”

“That’s right John, it’s for the star” said Charles. “But it’s not just because you are 6’4 that I ask you to do that. Your joy shines through everything you do – just like the light from the star.

John, a bit surprised said, “Why… thank you.”

Sara, Charles sister, asked,  “my turn?” Charles nodded. She opened up her letter. “The letter C! Is C is for Christmas cookies?

Charles laughed. “Good guess! C is for the cookies you make and for the loving care with which you make them – and we are all glad that you share.”

Everyone at the table agreed… and several people… and not just the children... reached for another cookie.

“What if I go next?”

Charles looked at his granddaughter who trying to be patient but was also trying to sneak a peak by holding her envelope up to the light. “Absolutely, Julie. You’ve waited long enough.”

Julie let out a big sigh and ripped the envelope open. The letter “I” fell to the table. “Grandpa, what does ‘I’ stands for? Igloos? Ireland? Icicles? Ice cream?”

He replied, “Imagination.”

Julie said, “Imagination?” What do you mean?

Everyone laughed.

Grandpa Charles explained, “You have the gift of imagination – you can dream of igloos and Ireland… ice-cream and icicles before the rest of us can say one word. Keep dreaming and imagining, let your curiosity keep asking, “what if?” We are all glad that you share your “what ifs” with us!  

Judy, Charles’ wife of 50 some years said, “I may need a little more imagination. I can’t guess what letter may be in my envelope.”

“Then, my dear, you are just going to have to open it,” Charles replied.

Judy carefully opened the envelope. “The letter R!” Is that for “Reading, ‘riting and ‘Rithmatic?”  

Charles replied, “No, dear. It’s for  ‘reminiscing.’ I love remembering with you. Thank you for all of the years together to remember!”

Judy said, “Thank you! I love remembering with you too – but even more, I love it that we keep on making memories. Tonight you have given us a wonderful gift and I don’t even really want to break this lovely moment… but… are you ready for supper?

Charles said, “Soon… but there’s one more gift. And it’s the best gift ever. You could call it the ‘Perfect Gift.’”

Tom said, “But grandpa… I don’t see any more envelopes.”

Charles replied, “You are right. But put your letters on the table. See what they spell.

Everyone dropped their letter to the middle of the table and almost at once they all saw it:    C - H – R - I - S – T! Christ.

Charles said to them, “I kept thinking about what was the perfect gift that I could give to you on this Christmas night. But then… I realized, the perfect gift has already been given. God’s got that one all wrapped up. God loves us so much that God gave us Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, our Savior. Jesus Christ is the perfect gift.”

The next year… as the family gathered around the Christmas table, they each brought their letter and their gift of heavenly music, time, bright stars and delicious cookies, imagination and reminiscing. One person was missing: Charles. He may have had a premonition that he didn’t have much time left to tell the story. But tell it he did – and his loved ones all remembered the gift that they were to him – and God’s perfect gift to them… the gift of Jesus Christ.

I hadn’t read this story yet when I was looking for my gift to bring to the clergy gathering.  I finally settled on a Jerusalem cross pin that I had received from Salam Arabic Lutheran church in Brooklyn on one of our youth mission trips.  I worried that it wasn’t the right gift… but I was out of time, so I packed it up and headed to the conference.

After worship that evening, a wonderful thing happened as we divided into groups to share our gifts and our stories. I realized then… despite my anxiety about finding that perfect gift… it wasn’t about the gift at all. God had already given each of us the perfect gift -  Jesus, God’s own Son… The important thing for us to do was to tell the story.

Tonight we celebrate that perfect gift - God’s gift - Jesus Christ. This Christmas, be sure to tell those you love what a gift that they are to you… and tell them the story about God’s perfect gift: Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church 2018

1 Adapted from The Christmas Letters: A Timeless Story for Every Generation by Brett Nicholaus


Mary's Song


Mary's Song

The Gospel of the Lord

Praise to you O Christ.

Brothers and sisters will you please pray with me?

God of song and mystery, like Mary, let your word spring forth from our lips with joy and wonder. Open our hearts and lives to your gift of abundant life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  

Mary’s Song

The power of music to bless us and transform the world

What do you do if you want to remember something?  Maybe you write it down… on a calendar, in your phone… or maybe you put sticky notes where you will see them or hang it on your refrigerator.  Unless you are one of the few with an amazing memory… you probably have developed a method or two for remembering things.

It turns out that music is one of the best ways to remember something. There is something that sparks our memory if we hear a tune or just a line of a song we know well or learned in our childhood. As writer Jodi Picoult once said, “Music is the language of memory.”  It’s true. I’ll bet most of you could sing the next line if I started singing “Hark the Herald angels sing..,”Glory to the new born king”

This marvelous music memory that we all have was an important key to helping me recover many years ago when I received an internal head injury after being hit by a car.  One of the things that I responded to, while I was in a coma, was my family singing Christmas carols – and the liturgy. Those words and music connected with me deep inside my soul.

That is the power of music. Songs reach into our hearts and minds and lives and help us express ideas and emotions that simply cannot be expressed by words alone.   What do we do when we celebrate? We play music!

In the opening hymn we sang: “Sing out your joy, for soon he is born…” We rejoice, we celebrate, we sing the promise of God that has come to life… in the birth of Jesus.  

But music is not just for celebrations. Music can also reach deep into our hearts at those times that we lament. Sometimes it can seem as if the power of darkness and sorrow is winning. Sometimes our hearts are broken. It is at those times that we turn to songs or Psalms of lament. Most of the lament psalms – for the Psalms were first written as songs to be sung or chanted – begin by acknowledging the hurt and the pain of life but then work their way to praise and thanksgiving.  Music can also help us to work through our trials and bring us out on the other side.

Songs are powerful. I was reminded of the fall of the Berlin Wall almost 30 years ago. It started with people gathering around candlelight in St. Nikolai church – the church where Bach wrote much of his music. They gathered to singing and praying for the fall of that wall. The Stazi police thought that nothing could happen as a result of songs and prayers – so they did not bother them. It began as a small group. But over time their numbers grew until they filled the sanctuary and then overflowed into the street until finally they marched with more than three hundred thousand, more than half of the citizens of the city, singing songs of hope and protest.  Their song shook the powers of the nation and the wall came down.

Likewise, it wasn’t only the strong words of Martin Luther King Jr that spurred on the justice movement of his day but Gospel songs, like “We shall overcome” made people not only hope for voting rights … but inspire them to believe that it could happen.  

Songs are powerful.  They help us express joy. They move us and give us the courage to stand up to oppression and to over come evil with good.

For our Gospel today, I wanted you to sing rather than just listen to Mary’s song, the Magnificat. These words have been set to many tunes but the message that they convey is timeless. These words, this song, reminds us that God meets ordinary people in ordinary places and cares for those who the world sees as “nobodies”.

There is every reason in the world that Mary should be afraid. She finds herself unmarried and pregnant – a condition that, in her day, could be punishable by stoning. But instead… she runs – possibly for protection - to her cousin Elizabeth – who has also been surprised by God with a baby even though everyone in her world thought her barren. And together they are amazed at the surprising ways that God has acted in them – ordinary, poor and seemingly powerless women.

And Mary sings. She accepts God’s choice and humbly and yet with not just a little courage, sings with joy and wonder that God would chooses to work through her, an ordinary girl to bear the Savior of the World. She rejoices, singing that her soul “magnifies” the Lord.

But then she sings – not only of her own condition – but of the condition of the world. She proclaims that God is at work in the world, turning the world’s expectations upside down.  Her verbs are past tense – not because God is done – but because Mary remembers God’s on-going work with the people of God. God worked with Moses to free the Hebrew people from Pharaoh’s hand. God worked with the prophets of old caring for the weak and turning expectations upside down. And now…Mary realizes… God is working in a new way… through her.

Mary sang and rejoiced to become a part of God’s unfinished business… and do we.

Today, as we baptize Lilah, welcoming her into God’s family, we  are reminded of God’s on-going work – and that God prefers to work through ordinary people like you and me.

She will be receiving a few gifts as reminders for her and you of her new life in Christ. First, her baptismal towel with a dove on it is a reminder that the Holy Spirit will always be with her. The candle that is lit today can be lit on the anniversary of her baptism, reminding her of Christ’s light shining in and through her and reminder her to “let her light shine before others so that they will see her good works” – not to praise her – but so that they will give thanks and glory to God.  She will receive a prayer shawl – and a prayer partner, reminding her that she will be in this congregation’s thoughts and prayers.

These are the gifts that we give all of the baptized. But I am adding one today: the gift of music.  The children’s choir of the congregation in which I was grew up recorded some songs – songs of the church, songs found in the hymnal. I want you to play these songs for her as she is growing up so that the music proclaiming the love of God can be the song of her heart – and the song that pulses through her bones, teaching her the love of God and the promises of God are given for her and for you.

May the power of music bless you so that your song, like Mary’s, can be one of joy and wonder and reflect the mysterious goodness and grace of God.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran church

December 23, 2018


Living the Good News


Living the Good News

This past week I happened to be listening to the radio when Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney and “fixer” was being sentenced. I had to look up what a “fixer” was. According to my dictionary, a “fixer” is: “a person who makes arrangements for other people, especially of an illicit or devious kind.” But at this point, Michael Cohen had run out of room to maneuver or “fix” anything. Speaking to the judge, he said, “Your Honor, this may seem hard to believe, but today is one of the most meaningful days of my life. The irony is today is the day I am getting my freedom back….I have already spent years living a personal and mental incarceration, which no matter what is decided today, owning this mistake will free me to be once more the person I really am.” Perhaps he was trying to win sympathy for a lighter sentence. But it sounded like repentance to me.

Repentance means not only saying, “I’m sorry” but also means committing to live life differently.  

In our Gospel, people from all walks of life come to John to be baptized – not with the baptism of new life in Jesus… Jesus hasn’t started his ministry yet – but with the baptism of repentance. John’s baptism of repentance calls for change, a 180 degree change in the way that people live their lives.  John tells people: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”

People believe John – but… they want to know: What does this mean?  Specifically, “What does this mean for me?”

Suddenly John becomes practical: If you have two coats – share with someone who has none. Don’t cheat, steal or extort money. Don’t be a bully. Be satisfied when you have enough.  

John the Baptist isn’t theoretical or heady. Instead, he gives them some very practical, very “do-able” ways to “bear fruit of repentance.” Instead of the old way of getting what you can when you can, John calls the people to: Share. Be fair. Don’t extort or bully or steal. Instead…care for others.

John challenges his listeners to do their part – to be good neighbors, to care for the other. It sounds a lot like Jesus’ 2nd commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus said that all of the law and all of the teachings of the prophets rests on two commands. Love God. Love your neighbor. These are the law – the commandments for how we too should live our lives. But…  while the law and the commandments can help us be better neighbors - and while repentance, asking for forgiveness and changing our ways to care for others helps build the community… they are not the Gospel. They are not the Good News.

John the Baptist knows this.  Although he is a little in the dark – he doesn’t know who the Messiah will be -- he does know that it’s not him. And he knows that the Messiah is coming.  He points to Christ.

There’s a great painting by Reformation painter Lucas Cranach of John the Baptist preaching to the people by the river Jordan. In the picture, John is pointing to Jesus – and just so the viewer doesn’t miss the significance of this….his finger is about a foot long. He points to Christ as the way, the truth and abundant life.  

That’s what Paul was doing too when he wrote to the Philippians. Paul wasn’t writing his annual Christmas card of peace and joy to all the earth – he was writing from jail. And yet… despite his situation, Paul says, “Rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS.”

This sounds like an impossible task. After all… always is a long time. Bad things happen. Situations change. And yet…  Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi – and us -- to hold onto the joy of Jesus Christ -- not because we are happy and not because everything is going to go our way but because…the Lord is near.

The Lord is near. Paul invites us to share with God – to pray with intention – and to not let any of our personal challenges, whether our own health, family, finances or work or school  – or the problems of our world to overwhelm us. Instead… Paul invites us to share our challenges with God – with thanksgiving.

We can give thanks… as we ask and as we pray, because we know God listens and God is near and… we already know the end of the story.  That’s the Good News. Because of Jesus’ love for you and the promise that God made to you in baptism, God has already forgiven you, redeemed you,  and claimed you as God’s own.

So… like the crowd in John the Baptist’s day, the question becomes… what then shall we do?

We are still subject to the law – and so Jesus’ first and second commandments still apply to us. “Love God and Love the neighbor”. And we still live in a broken world, a world that needs people to stand up to oppression and injustice. As a people of God, we are pretty good about praying for justice and peace, and caring for the neighbor through various programs such as Dinner at Your Door, Near, and Kidpack, but our Community Outreach task force is exploring new ways that we can be witnesses to and with our neighbors so that others can know God’s way of truth and justice and God’s redeeming love.

The truth is - there is much bad news out there. There is much that needs to be changed. Regardless of whose fault it is, it is not part of God’s plan for 7 year old girls fleeing oppression to die in our country because they don’t have water to drink or food to eat. It is not part of God’s plan for children in Flint, Michigan to still be suffering from the lead that was in their water tap.  It is not a part of God’s world for children in our own community to be hungry and homeless. This is not God’s way. And God has put us here….in this community….to reflect the love of God and to help make our community care for its most vulnerable people.

So… what are we going to do about it?  We will pray first but then… rather than assume that we know and before we develop a program or do anything else to seek to make difference in our community – we are going out into our community to ask them. That’s why Deacon Kirsten and I and hopefully a few of you will be visiting our neighbors today.  And as we go, we will be asking questions about them but we will also be standing there, not because of our own agenda, but like John the Baptist and Paul – as people of God who are pointing to Christ and saying by our presence: God cares about you.

There is a need in our community to see God’s witnesses – you and me -- reflect the love of God so that others can know and live into the abundance of God’s love and mercy and to be treated with care. After all, God’s community is not a closed club. The love of God, the way of Christ is for all.

Paul challenges us to live into the Good News, into the freedom of the Gospel. It is because of the love of God given to you and me that we can live with joy –no matter what the circumstances of our lives may be – Christ’s love and joy shines through and we can dare to rejoice always.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, rejoice in the Lord and let the joy of Christ reflect in and through you.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

December 16, 2018  Advent #3


The Word of God in the Wilderness


The Word of God in the Wilderness

The Holy Gospel according to Luke the third chapter:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' " Luke 3:1-6     The Gospel of the Lord.

The Word of God in the Wilderness

Luke begins this passage with a list of the “powers that be” of the time. He includes not one or two – but seven leaders of the world. These are the people that are in the news. These are the people that get the headlines, that have the power. But… notice: the Word of the Lord doesn’t come  to any of these. Instead, Luke writes, “”the word of God came to John son of Zechariah… in the wilderness.”

Compared to the first seven names, John was a nobody. He didn’t have any of the vestiges of power or wealth or prestige or position. He was a young and in the wilderness, place where no one who could avoid it would go. After all… the places of power and influence were in Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome.

The wilderness was a dangerous barren place of waiting, testing and challenge.  The wilderness is where God sent the people of Israel after leaving Egypt – the most technically advanced country of the time. The wilderness is where bandits and outlaws fled as well as people who wanted or needed to live outside of grasp of the power of the world. It’s where Moses fled and where Jesus was driven. It was a dangerous barren place of waiting, testing and challenge.

And yet… Luke writes…“”the word of God came to John son of Zechariah… in the wilderness.” So… essentially… the word of God came to a no-body in the midst of no-where. But…that’s often how the Word of God shows up.

Where do we expect power to be? Maybe if Luke was writing today, he would say: In the second year of the presidency of Donald Trump, while Mark Dayton was governor of Minnesota, and Putin was ruler of Russia and Angela Merkel was chancellor of Germany while Pope Francis was leader of the Roman Catholic Church and the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton was bishop of the ELCA, the Word of God came to… Becca… and the children of God at Faith-Lilac Way… and to you.

The Word of God is not limited to those that the world deems powerful or privileged or in positions of authority. As we see in Luke, God – and the Word of God -- shows up in surprising places.

This past week, I heard the Word of God in some of the places that I expected to find the Word of God and in some surprising places.

I heard the Word of God in worship on Wednesday night. It was a small gathering at our midweek service but those who came read scripture, prayed and… as we lit the first Advent candle, we sang of hope, the hope of God in our midst – despite the challenges of the world around us. It was refreshing– I hope for others – but certainly for me – to hear the words of God’s promise of God’s presence with us in the midst of the life’s ordinary challenges.

But I also heard the Word of God when I met with Becca. From our backgrounds, it would seem unlikely that Becca and I would meet.  Before moving to Minnesota, I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin in a Scandinavian-American Lutheran family. Becca was raised in an Asian-American Buddhist family and grew up in California. Our stories sound pretty different. But… Becca has an quite the story.

Becca studied and became a financial accountant in a big firm. But…because of work, she and her husband moved to Ohio. She was a person of faith – a Buddhist --but since the closest temple was quite a drive away, she found that she just wasn’t getting to worship. So… they started to attend a place of worship in their neighborhood. It happened to be a church… a Lutheran church. And in that Lutheran church, the Word of God spoke to Becca….and called her into ministry to proclaim the Good News of Jesus.

In just a few minutes, the youth and children of this congregation will be donning shepherd and angels costumes in preparation of the annual Christmas program. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear the story, somehow, the story of the birth Jesus, who came in a very ordinary way as a vulnerable baby to a poor unwed mother - when it comes through the voices and actions of children is always extraordinary and always new. Perhaps it is because, again, the Word of God comes powerfully through ordinary people – like me and you.  

How is the Word of God coming to and through you?

Perhaps you are in a wilderness right now. As I visit people in the hospital or go with my mother to her doctor appointments – as I did this past week, I look at people’s faces. Sometimes I see the anxiety and fear of the unknown. Other times, I see weariness and pain. Often… people are just waiting… hoping but not knowing. This is wilderness time. And… oddly enough… this is one of the times that people are often open to hearing the Word of God in a new way.

The Word of God comes to us in many ways. I invite you to be open to the way of God’s Spirit this Advent time. Our culture makes Advent into a time of busy-ness. But Advent is also a time of waiting… watching… and listening for the way God is speaking to us anew.  

There is both hope and disruption, promise and proclamation in the words that John quotes from the book of Isaiah. "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' "

Valleys are filled; mountains and hills are leveled; the crooked made straight, the rough places made smooth. Isaiah and John proclaim big changes in the environment around them. And change is not always easy. But…the good news of God prevails. For “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” This is God’s promise – for you… and for your neighbor. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran

2nd Sunday of Advent, Dec 9, 2018


Courage to Hope - Do not be Afraid


Courage to Hope - Do not be Afraid

Luke 21:25-36

25 "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." 29 Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

Courage to Hope not Fear

I love all of the preparations for Christmas – the cookie baking, Christmas concerts, Christmas shopping, decorating the tree and the house, the Christmas cards – well… I never write mine until well after the season Christmas is passed. But… I love it all.

But today’s Gospel not about any of that. Instead, the message sounds ominous: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars and on the earth distress... and the roaring of the seas and the waves.” And not only signs – but warnings: “Be alert” ; “watch”;” be ready”. Jesus’ words are enough to strike fear into our hearts.

Fear is a powerful force. And it is meant to be. Fear gets the adrenaline pumping allowing people to flee from danger – like the Campfire in California. And fear can cause people to stand their ground and fight when attacked, for example, by a bear in the wilderness. Or fear can cause someone who is strong to freeze in place. But in each of these cases - fear elicits a reaction.

Fear is exactly the right response when one is facing a grizzly bear or a wildfire. Brain scientists say that fear is a primordial survival tactic that operates out of the brain stem. Fear focuses our attention.  Peter Steink, a congregational systems consultant and ELCA pastor, says this is the work of the part of the brain called the “amygdala, ” which acts as our  body’s anxiety alarm system, or “Fear button.” It shuts down our thinking and makes us makes us want certainty. It eliminates our imagination and limits our vision. This is very helpful when you are facing something that is life threatening. You need to be full of adrenaline and focus.

However, when you are afraid, you cannot reason, you cannot think. You can only react. When we are afraid, we cannot use any of the gifts God gave us of reason or compassion, curiosity or imagination.

This is why Dr. David Lose, a pastor and theologian, makes the claim that “the greatest challenge we face today is not war, or economic inequity, or community unrest, or prejudice, or division, but fear.”1

This isn’t a new problem. Pharaoh was afraid of the growing number of strong Israelites – so what did he do?. He declared them “other”. He turned them into an enemy that he could exploit and enslave.  Not too different than today’s despots. Fear also causes us to horde, like one of the characters in Jesus’ parables, assuming that we will never have enough. But Jesus said that the one who hoarded lost it all that night. Fear makes us make bad choices. Fear also drives wedges of distrust instead of compassion into our relationships.  Fear causes us to look for differences – instead of our common ground. And, as Lose says, fear “drives us inward, hardens our hearts, darkens our vision, and stunts our imagination.”1

But that is not what God wants for us. When God sends a messenger, often the first words are: “Do not be afraid!”  Granted, that may be because to see an angel of the Lord is a frightening thing, but God’s intention is not to instill fear in us.

God gave us more than just a reactionary brain. Our left frontal cortex allows us to be reflective; and to put things in story narrative. This allows us to make sense of the situation and our lives not only from our own knee jerk self interest but also from a different light and from someone else’s perspective.2

Jesus warns his followers of the signs and wonders that will happen. But he does this not so that they will fight or flee or freeze. Instead, Jesus says, “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

That takes courage.

It takes courage to stand up when others are fearful. It takes courage to appeal to reason rather than join in the fray of insults. It takes courage – and imagination – to consider another way than the two competing alternatives.  

It takes courage to dare to hope and believe in the promises of Jesus.  But Jesus also tells his disciples – and us – that while heaven and earth will come to an end, his Words will remain.

Jesus’ words will remain. So what are these words?

Our Gospel reading for today comes right before Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.  Listen to Jesus’ words: “This is my body, given for you; this is my blood, shed for you.” Jesus offers himself as real presence. After they crucify him, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And Jesus gives his disciples then and now a new role, saying, “You are my witnesses”.

Jesus’ empowers us to be witnesses, to offer hope and imaginative possibilities to the world rather than fear. God gives us the courage to believe in the promises of Jesus, knowing that there is “nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

We are still in the midst of God’s story here on earth. So we will continue to watch and pray and act with hope and imagination so that we can be a part of God’s kingdom here on earth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church, December 2, 2018

1 http://www.davidlose.net/2018/11/advent-1-c-courage/

2. Peter Steinke at Workshop at Westwood Lutheran church 2009


Christ the King Sunday


Christ the King Sunday

John 18:33-38

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

Christ Jesus –King of Love

Jesus is the Way, Truth, Life… through Love

Pilate is a pretty easy guy not to like. His rule was brutal. The Gospel of Luke notes that he had some Galileans slaughtered – their crime? Going to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. Appointed by Caesar as Governor of the region, Pilate was a political man who had made it to the top of his little hill. He was “king of the mountain”- and like the winter game by the same name that I played as a kid, the goal, once you got to the top of the snow “mountain” was to keep everyone else off. As “king of his mountain” Pilate was always on the lookout for others who would seek to take his place.

Pilate asks Jesus directly: Are you the king of the Jews? In other words, are you a threat to me and my power?

When Jesus told him that his followers were not going to fight, Pilate’s knee-jerk reaction to protect his own position seemed to be satisfied and he was curious, “What have you done to be handed over to me?” Pilate doesn’t understand Jesus’ response. He doesn’t understand any other kind of king or kingdom than the type that he rules – with force and might, by hook or crook. When Jesus speaks of truth, Pilate, who doesn’t realize that he is speaking to the one who IS Truth responds, “What is truth?”

Pilate represents the worst of our world. He is the “king of the hill” based on power, might, and brute force. “Truth” is what he says it will be.

Jesus turns the world’s concept of power upside down. But that does not mean that Jesus is merely referring to a “spiritual” kingdom, that will come in the sweet by and by, a kingdom that has nothing to do with our world. Quite the opposite. Jesus shows us a different way – God’s way.

The Jesuits tell a story about Napoleon Bonaparte, who, though he was an incredible General and leader, understood that Jesus offered something that he could never offer. According to the story, Napoleon expressed it this way:

“I know men, and I tell you Jesus Christ is not a man... I have so inspired multitudes that they would die for me... the lightning of my eye, my voice, a word from me, then the sacred fire was kindled in their hearts.

I do, indeed, possess the secret of his magical power that lifts the soul, but I could never impart it to anyone. None of my generals learned it from me; nor have I the means of perpetuating... love for me in the hearts of men.” 1

Napoleon was right. Jesus kingship is different. It is not the kingship of this world, based on power and might or even on strength of personality and persuasion.

The way of Jesus exposes the hard and honest truth about us – we are not unlike the people who gathered to watch Pilate’s pronouncement upon Jesus. We are not any different than the ones who cried, “Crucify him.” Historically, the powers of the day that sentenced Jesus to death were the Roman government, the religious leaders of the time and popular opinion that was easily swayed by the leaders of the day. But when you get beyond the historical timeline, it’s not so different today.

As Bishop Curry writes, the motivations for killing Jesus then are alive and well in our world today: “self-interest, self-centeredness, greed, jealousy, political and economic corruption, religious narrow-mindedness and intolerance, individual cowardice, bigotry, violence, hatred, and indifference--what our biblical tradition actually calls sin.”

“Sin.” It’s a word that has too often been used by leaders in the church to condemn others. Religious leaders pointed their fingers at Jesus, accusing him of sinning by healing on the Sabbath. But Sin is not about doing good. As Bishop Curry says, ““Sin is selfishness. Sin is self-centered existence, and that self-centered existence left untethered makes no room for anyone else. And in the end, this selfish existence has the capacity to actually destroy life itself. Every war that has ever been fought, every bigotry and hatred that has ever been wrought, the fruit of every humanly devised evil has its root in this sinful selfishness.”

Confronted by the truth of our own failings – both for the things that we have done and said and the things that we have left undone and unsaid, we gather to confess our selfishness, our willingness to ignore the pain of others, our desire to be “comfortable,” our willingness to point the finger rather than confess our own shortcomings.

And then… we receive forgiveness and the gift of love.

Jesus is the king of love, the king who shows us the way, tells us the truth, and gives us an abundant life – not for the life to come but so that we can live an abundant life today. For Jesus is not only the King of love but teaches us to love.

The gift of love is not a one-time gift that we receive and then are suddenly transformed into being just like Jesus. The gift of love takes practice. It takes practice to receive it – and practice to give it. But that is what Jesus calls us to do and who God calls us to be.

Jesus teaches us to walk in his way, the way of love. Like Jesus, we are to love and forgive our neighbor – as they are. Like Jesus, we are to look at the places in our neighborhood and in our world to see the places and people that need to be lifted up. Like Jesus, we are to feed the hungry, care for the stranger and help the poor.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus is the King of Love who points to the truth, and teaches us God’s way, the way of love that gives us life.

Our response? Let us praise Jesus as the King and Lord of our lives. Let us sing with joy that Jesus came, humbly entering into our world and our lives to give us truth and love and life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church November 25, 2018

1. Ignatian Spirituality by Fr. Mark Link, SJ quotes from J.S.C.Abbott’s two-volume work, The History of Napoleon Bonaparte http://www.jesuits-chgdet.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Partners_SP04_page22-23_IgSpiritlty.pdf

2 The Most Reverend Michael Curry: http://day1.org/8299michael_curry_the_king_of_love


Thanks Living


Thanks Living

It was New Years and Brian Doyle was driving home with some friends.  It was late - and dark. Suddenly a car started flashing its lights at him. How annoying he thought. But then… he  realized. That car was trying to warn him of another car that was barreling down the highway towards him – going much faster than the speed limit –and it was coming at him in his lane. It was close. He could read its license plate. Finally, realizing the danger, he swerved onto the shoulder and car coming towards him sped by – never noticing that they almost crashed.

Doyle was pretty shaken. He couldn’t help but think about how close he came to losing his life.  He wondered – when he left the house, did he tell his mom he loved her? He thought about the things that he would have regretted not doing and not saying if that night had been his last.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving Day. Perhaps because Brian had been thinking a lot about his almost-accident, that night, as he scrolled through his Facebook messages, he was struck by the overwhelming spirit of gratitude expressed in message after message. Inspired, Brian wondered, “why not say ‘Thank you’ to someone every day?”

The next day he posted his intention on-line and created the blog "365 Days of Thank You."

Brian found it trans-formative. Every day he woke up thinking about who he could thank that day – and for what he wanted to thank them.

He began with his best friend in a coffee shop the next day. After his closest friends, he reached out to mentors and teachers. Then… on day 183, he went home for a break. Out on the golf course with his dad… he knew he wanted to say thank you to his dad – but found it really hard to know how to begin. He said, “I had never just sat down with my dad and thanked him for what he has done for me.” His dad received it with humility – and they talked on that golf bench for two hours. Brian said, “It really unlocked a deep relationship that I never knew I was missing.”

Back in his home town on day 249, he saw a guy walking with his mom. Brian recognized him as David, a boy he knew in grade school who had Asburger syndrome. He remembered that David had been mercilessly bullied and teased – and yet he did not it bother him. David had learned to let the comments slide like water on a duck’s back – and instead of looking angry, had always stood a little taller.  Brian called him over and thanked him for being a role model for him.

David was surprised – but his wasn’t the biggest reaction. Brian looked up to see David’s mom with her hands over her face crying. And then Brian realized - No one had ever thanked David before.

Brian learned, that year, the power of gratitude –for those that were thanked, for himself and for those who were witnesses.

Today and tomorrow, we pause to give thanks to God for all the gifts that God has given to us – our life and our relationships with God and with one another. But perhaps Brian’s right. The words “Thank you” don’t have to be reserved for days like today.  And it’s never too late to say. As a wise friend once said to me when I worried that I had taken too long to write a thank you note: the statute of limitations never runs out on saying “Thank you.”

Thank you. I thank God for you. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Thanksgiving Eve Nov 21, 2018


Hope in the Midst of Change


Hope in the Midst of Change

Mark 13:1-8

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.  The Gospel of the Lord.

“On a blazing summer day in the 1850’s, a lumber mill crew with wagon and ox took a break under a grove of tall evergreens. The air was cool, the pine needles fragrant.

‘Boys,’ said the team boss, ‘this is paradise.’” 1

That’s the legend of how the town of Paradise, California was named. It didn’t take long before others followed, some seeking lumber and others looking for gold. Later, people came seeking a reprieve from the city life and delighting in this town of 27,000 where housing was affordable, neighbors knew one another, and generations of people raised families and retired in this peaceful beautiful paradise of a place.

But that vision was destroyed last week as the “Camp fire” blazes rushed in so quickly that many residents were caught off-guard. They had been evacuated before – but always been able to return quickly as the fire burned somewhere else.  But this time, the fire rushed in and consumed their houses, the cars that they were driving and everything else in sight.

It doesn’t look like “paradise” any more.. People are beginning to come back – but instead of houses, cars and swing sets they find ash and rubble and burned up hopes and dreams. It’s heartbreaking.

Rubble was all that was left after the Roman army, seeking to put down the rebellion and punish freedom seekers, destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. It wasn’t just a church building. It was the holiest of holies, the center of Jewish faith, the house of God. Devastated, people of faith were asking: Why didn’t God protect God’s house? Did this mean the end was near?

But Mark, writing his Gospel about 70 years after Jesus’ resurrection and shortly after the destruction of the temple, remembered the story that when one of Jesus’ disciples glowed with admiration of the awe-inspiring temple, Jesus prophesied: “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”  And then… when the disciples asked him privately when this would happen and if this was a sign from God. Jesus dismisses it as simply the beginning of birth pangs.

Many people – like the disciples – have wondered about when the end of the world would be. Again and again, charismatic leaders proclaim that they “know the time,” they have read the signs – and then they get people to sell or give away all of their belongings to wait for the end of world.

But Jesus’s prophecy is not a prediction of the end of the world. Instead, Jesus urges his disciples and us not to put our faith and hope in things that we build of stone, metal, wood, fiber, plastic or anything else. All of these structures, all of these things, can be destroyed in an instant by fire or storm or war or …like the 35W bridge… from neglect and decay.  

Instead, Jesus invites them and us to see the kingdom of God being birthed in their lives – and in ours. It’s a long pregnancy. Two thousand plus years and God is still at work birthing into being God’s kingdom in you and in me.

Jesus says, “these are only birthing pangs.”  Birthing pangs are not to be under-estimated. They can be excruciatingly painful. I remember. And mine were fairly routine deliveries.  (It’s a miracle that there are second-born children these days.)

But just as the pain that is endured in giving birth is overshadowed by the joy of bringing new life into the world, so too, Jesus reminds us that despite the pain we experience in our lives, God is loves us, cares for us, and continues to birth new life in us.  

From our very first breath to our last, and every breath in-between, God will not abandon us. That’s a promise.

But sometimes – when we are focused on the pain around or in us – that is easy to forget. And so I want to teach you a little spiritual exercise that you can do at those times when you are overwhelmed by the pain of the day or frankly have just listened to the news. It’s really simple – you can all do it.

I’m going to ask you to take a big breath in - and hold it for a little bit and then slowly let it out…Try to breathe in your nose and out your mouth – but in this cold and flu season – any breath is a good one. So…let’s try it together… and this time… as you breathe in, I want you to be thinking of the love of God, and the promises of God given for you… and as you breath out… I want you to breathe out  - entrust to God’s care -- all of the bad news, the injustice… the hurts that you have felt and the things that you have done or said that has caused pain in someone else. It may take more than one breath to accomplish all of that. But once it is out, it is not yours to carry around anymore – so receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. This is the hardest step – remembering that you have given the pain away to God’s care.

And now… I want you to do it one more time. Breathe in God’s love and promises – hold them for a moment – but this time you have gotten rid of all of the bad stuff that you have been carrying around and so now I invite you to breathe out grace and love and forgiveness for your neighbor. Let God’s grace be birthed in and through you.

This is a simple exercise: Breathe in God’s love and promises, hold them inside of you for a moment, and then breathe out, the first time to give to God’s care all of the pain of this world and this life that you carry – and the second time to breathe out grace and love to and for your neighbor.  You can do this any where and any time.

But even if you choose not to do this as a Spiritual exercise, be reminded that you do this every day, anywhere from 12 to 60 times a minute depending on your age, size and health. Babies breathe 30 to 60 times a minute, filling their lungs with God’s gift of life and breath. Adult lungs can hold a lot more – so we don’t breathe as often. Perhaps this is why it can be helpful to be reminded of the gift we receive with each breath.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, the things of this world may tumble and fall and people like us continue to sin and hurt one another  – but the Holy Spirit continues to breathe new life into you and me and God’s presence, love and grace are with us – always– no matter what. That’s God’s covenant to you and it’s a promise you can count on. Amen.

never abandon us but  

For while the stone structures of humanity will tumble and fall, God will always love and care for us. God will not abandon us. We are called to live in faith and to trust in the word of promise God has bestowed upon us--the gift of grace given to us through Jesus Christ.

Hope in the Midst of Change and Anxiety: Dare to hope…

Provoke One Another to Love and Good Deeds

Paradise – a dreams burned…

War… countries

Our country divided….

Is this a sign of the end times?

Birth Pangs…  Hope in the midst of

Hold fast to hope…

What lasts?

Stories of hope and rebirth….

  • Woman who came by devastated..

  • Hospital room…

  • Week of Hope…

Christians dare to hope because of God’s promises given  to you…

Paradise. What do you think Paradise looks like?

At times like these, people often

Jesus’ focus is on the long game…

Mark 13:1-8 (Click to view Bible text below.)

The point of this reading from Mark is not to predict the precise timing of the end of the world, even though some might be tempted to read it as such. This passage is not so much about what is to come, but about what is actually happening around Jesus' disciples.

During the 2,000 years since the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the temple has been destroyed and the Roman Empire has fallen. There have been earthquakes and famines, but humanity continues to thrive upon the earth. Jesus' words invite us then to think not so much about rulers and kingdoms on earth, but about the kingdom of God. The stone structures of humanity may tumble and fall, but God will always love and care for us. God will not abandon us. We are called to live in faith and to trust in the word of promise God has bestowed upon us--the gift of grace given to us through Jesus Christ.

Lord, the world may seem to be coming to an end because of the carelessness of humanity, but we will hold fast to your covenants and the gift of grace given to us, through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hebrews 10:11-14, [15-18], 19-25

11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, "he sat down at the right hand of God," 13 and since then has been waiting "until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet." 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, 16 "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds," 17 he also adds, "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more." 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. 

19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Children’s sermon: The writer of Hebrews reminds us of the promise God made to the God’s people – who, because of Jesus, now includes us. God’s covenant – God’s promise is to not only write God’s law on our hearts and minds but also to forgive us. Why? Because God loves us.

  1. AP News  November 17, 2018


Blessed to Give


Blessed to Give

Theme: Jesus tells us that it is more blessed to give than to receive because he wants us to experience the joy of giving.

Jesus says, “it is more blessed to give than receive.” And that’s not all he says about giving. In fact, Jesus talks about money – and what we do with it – more than he talks about anything else other than the kingdom of God! How God wants us to use money – and our God-given time, our God-given talents and all of our God-given resources -- is a recurring theme throughout the Bible…which means that it is important… and that means we should pay attention!

Jesus says it is more blessed to give than to receive. So how and why do we give and share what God has given to us?

We give out of our abundance.

Sometimes giving is sharing out of our abundance.  I remember the year we planted a whole row of zucchini on the farm – not knowing what it was or how much they would produce!  Talk about abundance! We also did not realize that we were supposed to pick them when they are small. Every day my dad would come into the kitchen grinning with a bushel basket full of zucchini – and the biggest one proudly displayed on top. We gave away a lot of zucchini that year – sometimes disguised as zucchini bread, muffins, or cookies.

Sometimes it is really really fun to give!

For example, I’m guessing that many of you – like me -- bought bags of candy -- more than you could possibly consume yourself – just so that you could give it away to children and youth who came dressed up in costumes to your door?  And in exchange for them saying “Trick or treat” you happily gave them candy and wished them a happy Halloween?

It’s fun to give to children. I remember on Christmas – watching a child opening a gift. It wasn’t a big or expensive or even unique gift. But upon opening the gift, he sighed and said, “Oh… this is what I’ve always wanted!”  It’s heart-warming to give … especially when the gift is received with such joy.

In the Old Testament the gift that was given back to God was designated as a tithe – 10 percent. And many people still use that as a guide. That is likely what the rich people were doing in the Stewardship litany that we will be reading next. They were just doing what was required of them. To those to whom much has been given… much will be required…

But instead of commending them, Jesus points out the widow who entrusted all that she had to God. It doesn’t make any sense economically. But it was a radical gift of the heart. Jesus noticed.

That’s what our scriptures remind us – giving is good for us to do.

That’s why we give back to God and to our church.  Again – it all belongs to God. God has entrusted to us these days and years of life to love and care for one another; God has entrusted to us gifts of health and talents and one another. God has given to us God’s only Son and asked us to share this Good news with others.  

Today we are reminded that we gather here to praise God by making a joyful noise and to share God’s good news. We give of our God-given resources to this church because it is important to us to have musicians to help us make a joyful noise to the Lord. We give because we are glad to be a teaching parish, walking with seminary students on their faith journey. We give because this is the place where we gather to be the people of God – sharing the Good News, loving and serving the neighbor. And so we give – hopefully joyfully – and we are blessed in our giving. Amen.

Now… I mentioned before that giving can be really fun. And I also realized that this is even better, even more fun when I share the opportunity to give.  So… I’ve invited some of our youth to help me give to you.

These boxes are based on the story of : Noah! And in this story, in the ark, God SAVES a remnant of the world.

God sent us a Savior too.  This was the best gift EVER.

So… just to make sure you get this connection, please repeat after me: God gave Jesus. (Repeat). God gave Jesus to Save US. (Repeat)  Jesus is our Life Saver. (Repeat). We can give others this good news (Repeat). God gives abundantly! And so should we! (Repeat).


All Saints Sunday - The Last Word


All Saints Sunday - The Last Word

The Holy Gospel According to John, the 11th Chapter:

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." The Gospel of the Lord!

The Last Word… not death but LIFE!

Tears. Tears are referred to in all of today’s Scripture readings.

In the Hebrew scripture, in the book of Isaiah, we read the promise that  “The Lord will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” In the New Testament book of Revelation we read that God will “wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” These prophecies in the Old and New Testaments are promises for the future… they proclaim the end of the story - that time in which God will wipe away every tear – and death will be no more.

We aren’t there yet. Instead, we are a part of God’s story.  And so is Jesus – and Jesus makes all the difference for how we live with tears, death and dying… and how we prepare for that day when God will wipe away every tear – and death will be no more.

But I’m getting ahead of the story.  One of my strengths – from the Strengths finder assessment tool is “positivity”. I always see the glass as at least half full! I love to celebrate the new saints – those who have been baptized into Christ’s family. And that is certainly a good thing to do !

But the flip side of positivity is the desire to jump ahead too quickly to the end of the story and the sure and certain promise of resurrection with tears all wiped away and death being no more.  I’ve learned that sometimes I – we – have to sit in the sorrow and grief of the real loss that we have felt in our lives before we move on to the glory of resurrection.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t rush to the tomb to release Lazarus. He doesn’t even rush to Lazarus’ side when he first hears that Lazarus is dying. Instead, when he arrives, seemingly “too late,” he mourns, he grieves, he weeps real tears.

In this passage, Jesus teaches me (us) that not only will we experience pain, grief and sorrow, but that He did too. Jesus grieved – and cried – for his friend Lazarus and for his friends Mary and Martha who were grieving too. Jesus grieves and cries real tears because he LOVES them.

There wouldn’t have been any sorrow if Jesus hadn’t loved them and there wouldn’t have been any sorrow if Jesus had simply come and “healed” Lazarus. But instead of simply healing Lazarus, Jesus came into the midst of a grieving family – friends of his – and -- before he gave Lazarus new life-- he first grieved with them. Mary and Martha were stricken with grief – and like so often we do – they said to Jesus, if only you had only been here!

If only…  It’s hard not to say those words when we wish with all our heart that the outcome had been different…and that – somehow - we could have done something to protect our loved one or that Jesus would have done something.  If only

We don’t know why some people experience miraculous healing and others die. We don’t know why some people die “too soon” like the Jewish parishioners who were shot during their Sabbath worship just a little over a week ago. But we do know that it hurts when we, and when people we love, experience pain, grief and sorrow. So, like Jesus, we need to take the time to grieve when people that we love die, and, like Jesus, stand beside and comfort our friends, our neighbors, fellow children of God, as they grieve.

Grief is never to be underestimated. Somehow… in our fast-paced world…we tend to think we should “get over it quickly.” After all, the news has moved on... we’ve had the funeral, sent the thank you notes and other things have happened in our lives – and certainly in the lives around us. And yet… especially on a day like today… it is good for us to take some time to remember, to thank God for those whom we have loved who have died… and to grieve our loss. Every death changes something in our world.

But death doesn’t have the last word for Lazarus or for us or for our loved ones who have already died.  Instead, so that others may believe, Jesus proclaims: “Lazarus come out!” And Lazarus – although he had been in the tomb for four days – comes out.

It’s a miracle. But it’s more than that. The story of Lazarus foreshadows Jesus’ own death and resurrection. And Jesus’ resurrection is why we dare to hope in the promises of new life, of a world without tears, a world in which death will be no more.

We know the end of the story. Yet, we also know that the story is not over. We are a part of God’s story.

Jesus calls Lazarus to come out of the tomb. Lazarus obeys. He comes out – alive! It’s a miracle!  But… Lazarus was tightly wrapped in bands of cloth. I imagine that he looked kind of like a mummy. He couldn’t do anything but hobble out of the tomb. So Jesus says to the community of people who are standing there gaping at Lazarus:   “Unbind him and let him go!”

God made us for community. It was because of Jesus Christ that Lazarus received new life. But it is with the help of his neighbors that Lazarus was set free to live – and to share the amazing message of Jesus’ love.

Today, as you come to the table to eat Christ’s body and drink Christ’s blood, may you be fed, renewed and reminded of the gift of new life that Jesus has given to you. It is a gift that is meant to strengthen you so that whatever trials or challenges may befall you in this life – you will know that God is with you. And this gift – the gift of faith and trust is meant to be shared.  We who are set free to live and love by Jesus can help “unbind” our neighbor, so that all are free to live and to share the love of God. Thanks be to God!

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

All Saints Sunday - November 4, 2018