Hope Not Fear

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Hope Not Fear

What are you afraid of? Let me ask it this way: What are things that just from reading the newspaper – or hearing the news – or talking with friends and neighbors that are cause for alarm? What do people worry about?

  • Global warming?
  • North Korea?
  • Myanmar – ethnic cleansing
  • Taxes?
  • Christmas?

All of these are things that can cause great concern.

The first few sentences in our Gospel sound like the apocalypse – the second coming. There are cosmic signs – a Solar eclipse, comets, and the Son of Man coming with the four winds. And whenever you hear apocalyptic language like this, it often induces fear. The unknown can be a bit scary.

One of the ways that people deal with fear of the unknown is to try to explore it, explain it and demystify it. They want to understand it, assuming that if they understand it, if they can get their head around it, it will no longer be frightening. It will no longer cause fear. But Jesus says, basically – don’t bother to try to figure out the “when.” It’s not for you to know. And yet…people want to know… and somehow… thinking that if they know, then they can be prepared and if they are prepared then they will be ready and they do not need to be afraid. And so… throughout the years there have been declarations made about the “END OF THE WORLD” … only to have the date come and go with the wind. And so the date of the apocalypse continues to be elusive… and hence… frightening.

And yet… for the people who were first listening to Mark’s Gospel, this is what they were waiting for… this is what they were hoping for… they were waiting, expecting Jesus to come back soon. This was not a cause for fear – this was a cause for hope, for rejoicing!

Do any of you have spring bulbs -Tulips or Iris or lilies at your house? They are often the first to poke their heads out of the soil in the spring. After the cold of winter, I am so happy to see them. It’s like the fig tree in Jesus’ sermon. It’s an early indicator of summer – and if you are like me, it gives you a bit of joy when we see these signs of Spring each year pushing up from the ground. They are a sign of hope, not fear.

But..after telling us that no one knows the day or the season, Jesus says in our Gospel, “Beware, keep alert.” Beware. What do you think of when you hear the word “Beware” Hope or Fear? The word “Beware” instills fear – or at least high alert right? Probably because we were created with strong survival instincts, our fight or flight reactions are strong and so I think we move to fear quickly.

However, at our text study this past week, one of the pastors questioned, “How is that word ‘Beware’ translated? What is the origin of that word – or what is a synonym? One of our colleagues quickly looked it up in his Greek online Bible and surprised us all. Another translation of the word “Beware” in this sentence is “Look!” or “Be aware”. “Look” or “Be aware” doesn’t sound nearly so ominous as “BEWARE.”

“Look.” Pay attention. That’s what Jesus is inviting his disciples and us to do. “Look. Be aware. Be alert. The kingdom of God is coming… That is not a message of fear. That is a message of hope and expectation.

Earlier I asked, “What are you afraid of?” And then… more generally, what are people afraid of? And you mentioned…….

It was easy to generate a big list. To our fears – those “real” and “imagined” let me say, Emmanuel – God is with us in the midst of it all. And Jesus calls us to pay attention – to see the word of Jesus and to join God in caring for the world and God’s people in it – so that it does not need to be a place of fear and anxiety. God is with us – Emmanuel – in our fears.

Now let me ask: What are you hoping for? What does the world need?

Again, let me say, Emmanuel – God is with us in this too. The king of creation is here in our midst.

Earlier, I handed you a piece of playdough as a reminder that, as we read in Isaiah, God is the potter and we are the clay. It is a good to be reminded that God is God… and we are not. But it is also good to be reminded that God is not done with creation – and God is not done with you and me.

I’m going to ask you to do something that may seem odd. Take a big breath in…. Let it out. Breathe in. Breathe out. As long as you can breathe in – and out – the Holy Spirit – Spirit also means “Wind” or “Breath” - is present and working with you.

God does not simply put our piece of clay on a potters wheel and come out with a finished product. God invites you to be engaged in molding and in shaping your life, to be a co-creator with God. Some of you may have found ways – while listening – to mold your little piece of clay. That’s good. You see God our potter invites us to pay attention, to “Look!”; to be alert to the way that God is active in our world and then to join God in that creation, in God’s activity in the world, in our neighborhood and in our church.

Today we sing: “O Come O Come Emmanuel” Emmanuel means God with us. God is with us, present with us – always. God is with us as a potter, molding us, shaping us, leading us and walking beside us – even when we do not see God’s presence. Even in those times or maybe especially in those times that seem more fearful than hopeful, those times when we are anxious rather than eager, God is with us – Emmanuel.

And God is with us in those times in which we wait in hope and expectation for the blessings of God. God is with us, Emmanuel.

So brothers and sisters in Christ, “Look. Pay attention.” God is With Us.

Let us pray: O Come O Come Emmanuel, God be with us, bring us out of fear and anxiety and into hope and joy. Amen.

 

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

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Seeing Jesus…

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Seeing Jesus…

When have you seen Jesus? In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us: you have seen him – and helped him…or not – whenever you have encountered the least of these who are members of my family”

In Jesus’ story, both groups of people were surprised. Those who had cared for the “least of these” asked incredulously, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'

Neither group realized that in caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the poor, those in prison or anyone else that would be considered “the least of these,” they were caring for Jesus.

Where have you seen “the least of these”? At the food shelf? By the side of the road? At the bus stop? At school? At the hospital ER? Jesus still shows up unannounced – in the form of strangers and neighbors who need our care. We know this – and yet we are still surprised when we see Jesus in places we don’t expect him.

Perhaps you saw the story this past week of Kate – a young woman who ran out of gas on the freeway in New Jersey. She pulled off on the closest exit –her heart pounding – got out of her car to find a gas station. But instead, she met a homeless man with a sign at the end of the exit. He told her to get back into her car and lock the doors. He then walked to the gas station and bought a can of gas with $20 – the only money he had. Here was a homeless man – and yet – Kate was the one who was in need.

Kate decided to give back. For a few weeks she would drive back to the spot where the homeless man – his name is Bobby – would sit with his sign. She gave him some food, bought him a jacket, hat and gloves – some socks. Bobby was grateful – and honest that the reason he is homeless was because of some bad decisions that he made. But as Kate got to know Johnny, she decided she wanted to help him get second chance. So she and her boyfriend started a Go-fund me page and they raised seven hundred dollars, for which Bobby was really grateful. But Kate wanted Johnny to be able to get an apartment and a fresh start and knew he would need a bit more to do that and so they made a youtube video, telling the story of Bobby’s generosity – and her wish. The funds started pouring in. They have raised over $300,000 to give Bobby a second chance.

Who was the “least of these”? Who was the person in need? In this story, Bobby’s compassion and generosity led to Kate’s gratitude and then her compassion and when she shared their story, it lead to even more generosity. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama explain in The Book of Joy, compassion, generosity and gratitude are essential for living meaningful lives filled with joy.

Archbishop Tutu tells the story of a mother in South Africa who could not stand to see all of the orphans who were on the street - abandoned after losing their parents to HIV Aids. So she started bringing them into her home. She had about a hundred street children in a three-room house. But soon people started to notice. One group offered to build housing. Others began to collect food. This woman’s generosity inspired others. Tutu says, “One shouldn’t pretend that people don't get overwhelmed…but do what you can where you can.”

See your neighbor’s need – whether that neighbor be the person you live next to or the person at the food shelf or the homeless person on the street or the person who runs out of gas on the freeway. Do what you can where you can - knowing that in serving your neighbor, you are serving Jesus.

Where have you seen Jesus? Maybe you have seen Jesus in the face of a woman telling her “Me too” story. Vulnerable women and girls have begun to share their stories of being sexually abused or harassed. Or maybe you have seen Jesus in the eyes of another vulnerable people. The Star Tribune recently reported on seniors in care centers who have been abused and their protests ignored – or silenced. Where have you seen Jesus? How can you respond? It depends. Sometimes what is needed is a compassionate, listening ear. At other times…we are called to respond with action – be that a letter, intervention, a youtube video or maybe a glass of water to someone who is thirsty. As Bishop Tutu says, “Do what you can where you can - knowing that in serving your neighbor, you are serving Jesus.”

What about us? How can we, as a church in Robbinsdale celebrating our 75th Anniversary, how can we do what we can where we can to serve our neighbor and to serve Jesus?

Our bishop, Bishop Ann, gave us – and all of the congregations in the Minneapolis Area Synod -- a challenge.

One of our “new starts,” Tapestry, has a need. Tapestry is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual Latino and Hispanic gathering place, a place in the midst of the city where the community could explore what it means to be church. Its pastor, Melissa Melnick, is particularly gifted in seeking out people that others consider “the least of these” and not only hearing their stories but also providing resources and opportunities to know the love of God first hand. At Tapestry, they gather people together to care for one another, creating a tapestry of lives woven together – both in their own community and with their band which not only plays for their own worship service but also for other churches. Some of you may have heard them last year when they came last fall to kick off the Wildfire Confirmation program. They were doing what they could – where they could to serve the neighbor and serve Jesus.

Then last April, tragedy struck as news came that Melissa’s son, Chris Stanley, had been swept into the Mississippi. You may remember hearing or reading about this story. Chris, a young college student, and a friend had climbed a fence to sit and watch the falls. They had no idea just how dangerous it was. One of them was able to swim to safety. But Chris could not be found. Melissa, her family and friends and the people of Tapestry gathered at the river to watch and pray, wait and hope…for 10 days before Chris’ body was found.

Now Melissa, her family and the ministry of Tapestry – people woven together by God’s love – are in need of care. The service and mission committee will be meeting to see how we can answer the question of what we, as a church in Robbinsdale celebrating our 75th Anniversary, can do to serve our neighbor Melissa and Tapestry and to serve Jesus?

These are just a few stories. Jesus shows up – in surprising places and in surprising ways. We never know where we will next see the face of Jesus. We only know that Jesus invites us to serve our neighbor – especially those in need – and promises that by doing so, we will be serving him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus has commissioned us and sent us out to be ambassadors saying, “Let your light shine before others that they will see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” This is the message that we will be embracing this year for our 75th Anniversary. This is the message that the saints who have gone before us – Gertie Dumont, Linda Swanson, Betty and Harry St. John and so many others --- have proclaimed with their words and deeds. And this is our mission too.

Brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s not only do what we can where we can to serve our neighbor and to serve Jesus, let’s let our light shine. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

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You Are Blessed

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You Are Blessed

You are blessed. Jesus said so. You are blessed. But, what does it mean to be blessed?

People often say, “I am so blessed to have… a healthy child” … …a job… good health… a beautiful house or something else that is good or desirable. But these blessings sound like being “successful” or “rich” or “living the good life.” And that sometimes implies that people are blessed with success, riches and a good life because they did something to deserve it...and then… does that mean that those who don’t have healthy kids or a good job – are not blessed?

No. As Lutherans, we believe that God has blessed us – all people – with gifts of time, talents and skills and resources. As the Bible says, the sun shines and the rain falls on the good and bad alike. We believe that we are blessed – not because we did anything to deserve it - but out of God’s great mercy. And because we are blessed –we can be a blessing for others. We have been blessed – to be a blessing.

In today’s Gospel Jesus proclaims blessings to people who are in situations that don’t sound like the good life. They don’t even sound like something to give thanks for. Who wants to mourn? Or be meek? Or persecuted? How is this blessing? Or “Good News?”

To put it in context, I’m going to read just a few verses of Matthew before our Gospel reading: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. “ (Matthew 4:23-25).

Jesus is not talking to those who, in his society, were considered “successful” or “rich” or “living the good life. He’s talking to those who could not afford medical insurance, those who were disabled, sick and hurting. They showed up because they were in need. They needed to hear the good news of Jesus – and they were hoping – despite everything – that Jesus could heal them. They came from all over - Jews and Greeks – immigrants, foreigners and locals too. Into this unlikely crowd, Jesus brings healing – and then he does something more transformative still – he proclaims blessings on those that society did not consider blessed – pitiable maybe – but no one would have considered them “successful” or “living the good life.”

But Jesus called them, Blessed.

In the height of the Great Depression, circuses would travel from town to town, often with a “sideshow” – an exhibit of people who in that day were considered “freaks” – a bearded lady, conjoined twins, a painted man. In the short film, Butterfly Circus, the sideshow master urges the crowd to gather around to see a man “whom God himself has turned his back upon” and then dramatically pulls back the curtain back to reveal Will, a man without arms or legs.

Will escapes the cruelty of that circus and circus master and by stowing away in the Butterfly circus truck, hoping to find work with them. But he is surprised to find that they don’t have a sideshow. He is about to despair that he will be thrown out. But this circus master tells Will he won’t allow him to be displayed and laughed at for what he lacks – but he also urges Will to not just sit on the sidelines feeling sorry for himself but instead to find his gifts, saying, “You are magnificent…. If you could only see the beauty that can come from ashes.”

With his new community at the Butterfly Circus, a community built of people who also had experienced challenges, Will discovered that God had not “turned his back on him.” Instead, he found that what he had been taught was a weakness, a deficiency, could be used as a blessing, a unique gift, and that by using this gift, he could be a blessing to others.

Jesus proclaims surprising blessings – to Nic V., the Australian man the character Will portrayed – and to you. But sometimes, like Will, we need to be reminded that we have been blessed.

Sometimes hearing God’s Word in a new translation can give us new insight – especially in familiar passages like today’s Gospel. So, for example, the first blessing, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is translated by the Message Bible as: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”

Ever been at the end of your rope? I have. Jesus knows that it is at those times that we are often more open to hearing God’s Word and God’s way for our lives. It is at those times that we realize that we can’t do it on our own that our ears are open to hear the Holy Spirit saying, “I’m here! I’ve been here all along!” Jesus is there with blessing and love even in those times when you don’t feel particularly worthy or confident or capable, even when your spirit feels weak, tired, distraught or in pain.

Today is All Saints Day, a day in which we remember and mourn the loss of our loved ones. We hear the words: “Blessed are those who mourn” translated by the Message Bible as: “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”

When we mourn the loss of those that we love our emotions can range from angry, to sad, to thankful, to bitter, to glad, to out of control and sometimes all at the same moment. But Jesus blesses us in the midst of our grief, bringing us comfort and hope and the knowledge of his abiding love and care.

Throughout these blessings, Jesus turns the world’s expectations and understanding of what it means to be blessed upside down. Because in those times when we are hurting, mourning, and filled with heartache and everything seems to be going all wrong… it is then that Jesus reminds us that we are not alone. God is with you… and this, in itself, is reason to call you blessed.

You are blessed. But, again, sometimes we don’t feel so blessed. So let me remind you of the time in which you were first claimed by God as God’s child.

Someone - maybe me – stood before a bowl of water and proclaimed, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” and as each name of God was spoken, water was poured on your head. You were already loved by God, but on that day, with the water and God’s Word spoken, you became an official part of God’s family, a brother or sister of Christ and heir of all of God’s promises.

You are blessed. Jesus says so.

But sometimes we need a reminder. That was the case for the people in Rome. And so Paul reminded them – and us – that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

That’s God’s promise. That’s God’s blessing for you. Thanks be to God. Amen

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Word Alone. Faith Alone. Grace Alone.

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Word Alone. Faith Alone. Grace Alone.

In case you haven’t heard, Lutherans and other Christians- Catholics and Protestants all over the world are celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this month. Legend has it that the Reformation began with Luther pounding 95 theses on the door of the church – the bulletin board of the day – arguing the need to reform the church and our lives to mirror Christ’s way rather than our own. The need for reform hasn’t ended. And so, today and for the next two Sundays, we will be focusing on the Reformation that Martin Luther began and that we need to continue so that people can continue to hear God’s Word, and receive God’s gifts of Faith and Grace.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, would you please pray with me?

God of Grace, give us faith to come to you, to hear your word and to act upon them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Martin Luther spoke simply and in the language of the people. He advocated: Word Alone. Faith Alone. Grace Alone. Now I know that this looks like three things – Word, Faith and Grace and not one thing – but they are bound together.

The Word Alone. As Lutherans, we understand “The Word of God” in three different ways. First, Jesus Christ is the Word of God. As we read in the beginning of the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus is revealed as the Word of God.

“The Word of God” is also understood as the preached and proclaimed Word of God. As Christians, we need to continue to read, hear and apply the Word of God to our daily lives.

Jesus, in our Gospel, challenges us to do this. He says, “Why do you call me “Lord, Lord” and do not do what I tell you?”

Jesus wants us to not only hear his words and but also to act on them. After all, if you are the body of Christ – and you are – then your words and your actions matter because you – your life and your words and your actions -- are a witness of and to Jesus, the Word of God.

The Word of God is Jesus and is proclaimed by our words and actions. But for most people, the first thing that they think of when they hear “The Word of God” is the Bible. And it is. The written Word of God is how faith is shared from generation to generation. And thanks to Martin Luther – and other reformers before him and since – the Bible, while it was originally written in Hebrew and Greek, has been translated into hundreds of languages and dialects.

Translation of the Bible provides access to God’s Word -- but translations always involve choices. For example, if you were trying to translate the word “snow” into Innuit, the language of one group of Eskimos, you would have to choose which of the 50 words for snow you meant. In the same way, Bible translators have to choose whether to translate the Hebrew word “hesed” as justice or as righteousness. We think of different things when we think of “justice” and when we think of “righteousness.” And yet, it is the same Hebrew word.

Another challenge is how words change over time. Confirmands often ask why the Catechism says we are to “Fear and love God.” I explain that it’s because the definitions of the words – and how we use them have changed. Originally, in Old English, “awesome” and “awful” both meant “fearful.” But over time, “awful” came to mean “frightful or exceedingly bad” and “awesome” meant “reverential wonder with a tinge of fear” but now “awesome” is described as “inspiring” or “mind-bogglingly amazing.” That’s quite a change. So now sometimes, in studying the catechism, instead of reading “we are to fear and love God” we read, “We are to be in awe of and love God.”

Yet, for all of its challenges, the Word of God provides a strong foundation. That’s what Jesus teaches in our Gospel lesson. Like the one who builds a house on the solid foundation of rock, the Word of God is our strong foundation. But just as not all of the materials that go into building a house are of the same strength, not all of the words of the scriptures are of the same strength either. Martin Luther describes the Bible as the manger in which Christ lies – and that all of the scripture that does not reveal Christ is “straw.” But… unlike Thomas Jefferson, he did not cut out the parts of the Bible that he did not like. Instead, he focuses on those words that reveal Christ to us – that reveal God and God’s way – and leaves the rest.

Have you ever been asked, “Are you a Bible Believing Christian?” As Lutherans, we can say, “Yes. We believe in the Word of God,” because we believe Jesus is the Word of God, the Word of God is proclaimed by us today and the Bible is the Word of God.

No one would have guessed that Martin Luther would be the witness to Christ that he became. After all, Martin Luther was the son of peasants – who did well enough in their business to send Luther to school. Their plan was for him to become a lawyer. But, as the story goes, in the middle of a severe lightning storm, Luther was afraid and out of concern for his soul he prayed to St. Ann that if he was spared, he would dedicate his life to God.

Luther survived the storm and ended up joining a monastery where he attempted to live a perfect life so as to make himself right with God. But, try as he might, Luther could not live up to what he thought that God demanded. Seeing Luther’s anguish, his spiritual advisor and superior, John Staupitz, sought to turn Luther from his negative inward searching to service. The religious order to which they belonged was not one of cloistered monks but rather friars whose mission to the church included service to the world. Wisely, Staupitz sent Luther to Wittenberg to study and teach at the university and to preach the Word at the Town Church.

It was in his study of the Word of God that Luther received what became the cornerstone of his theology, namely that it was the Word Alone – and not human teaching or understanding – that should guide him. No longer was he bound by what someone else taught. Trusting in and delving into God’s word, he discovered that God was not an angry God that demanded perfection. Instead, he discovered that God was gracious, forgiving and abounding in steadfast love. When Luther read passages like today’s reading from Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works,” his whole understanding of God’s relationship to people changed dramatically.” No longer did he have to prove himself to God – or reach as standard of perfection. Faith was a gift! And so was Grace! Instead of proving himself, he could confess his sins and shortfalls – and trust in God’s Grace.

The problem in Luther’s day was the corruption of the church selling access to God and making people feel unworthy of God’s love and grace. We don’t have this same problem today. And yet… people still suffer from feelings of unworthiness or despair or anger at God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we fall short – every day – of being the people that God would have us to be. We are not as gracious, loving and hospitable as God desires for us. We forget to love one another as Christ has loved us. We are still just as much in need of Grace Writer Anne Lamott described Grace this way: Today, Grace meets you exactly where you are, at your most pathetic and hopeless, and it loads you into its wheelbarrow, and tips you out somewhere else, in ever so slightly better shape, which feels like a miracle.”1

God is gracious, merciful and abounding in steadfast love. And for us this means that we have a God of second chances. We still strive to be better, but we can count on God’s grace to see us through. Brothers and sisters – this is Good News indeed! And for this, I give thanks. Amen.


Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
October 15, 2017



1~ Anne Lamott, in Sharpen Up – Lowering the Weapon, an article

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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A Masterpiece in the Making… Needing the Hand of Another

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A Masterpiece in the Making… Needing the Hand of Another

“You are a masterpiece in the making.” ArchBishop Tutu said, “I would say this to everyone: You are made for perfection, but you are not perfect. You are a masterpiece in the making.”

We have three very talented Confirmands who are going to affirm their faith this morning. They have each written faith statements and chosen Bible verses and made stoles with symbols of their faith. Confirmands – Jessica, Joey, Merideth: You are a masterpiece in the making. Of course – they are not the only ones. You all are a masterpiece in the making. You have all received great gifts and talents – but since it is their day to shine, let me tell you a little about our Confirmands.

On top of everything else that they do: Joey plays baseball and basketball; Jessica plays softball and volleyball; Merideth is in theatre and choir. But I’m betting if I asked them if they were able to hit a homerun, spike a volleyball, hit a 3 point basket or act or sing a solo when they the first began – none of them would say that they could do it. All of them have a lot of God-given talent – but they would also acknowledge that they weren’t perfect when they started – and still aren’t perfect – but they have grown in their talents. And it’s because of one simple word: practice.

I can’t help but think of that old joke. The young violinist stops a taxicab and asks, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The taxicab driver replies: Practice. Practice. Practice.

Practice is a part of sports, theatre, music and… your faith life. Part of practicing involves learning. You probably aren’t going to hit a homerun if you swing the bat like it’s a golf club. And so, at practice, you learn about swinging a bat. Likewise, it would be hard for you to know much about Jesus – because what you can pick up in the culture may not be true. And so, because your parents wanted you to learn, you attended Confirmation class and Sunday school and worship -- you have been learning about God and what God wants for us – and for you.

In our Gospel reading someone tried to test Jesus about what was the greatest commandment. Although there are 613 commandments to pick from, Jesus doesn’t hesitate: Love God. That’s the greatest commandment because God loves you – and wants a relationship with you. But while he was only asked for one, he quickly added the second commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus actually gets a two-fer in this second commandment because you first have to love yourself in order to love your neighbor as yourself.

So how do you practice loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself?

It starts right here: in Christian community. This is where we practice loving God in worship, learning about God and God’s ways. And this is where we can practice loving each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. But it doesn’t stay here. We begin learning how to love our neighbor here so that we can go outside these walls and love others too. Remember that, for Jesus, “Neighbor” doesn’t just mean those next door or those who look like you or those who agree with you. “Neighbor” means everyone else. We learn to love one another inside the church so that we can love one another outside the church too.

That’s what Paul was urging in his letter to the Philippians in the church in Philipi. There was a big fight going on. Paul doesn’t say what it was. But clearly, two leaders in the congregation –

Eudia (You-O-dea) and Syntyche (Sin-toe-chee) had a disagreement. It’s clearly a big issue - but Paul doesn’t take sides nor does he try to solve the problem. Instead, he calls upon the two leaders to reconcile, to be of the same mind in the Lord.

And then he tells them to “Rejoice.” “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS.” And just in case they missed it, he repeats it: Again, I say, “rejoice!”

Now the Philippians may have wondered, “Paul – how can you tell us to rejoice at a time like this?”

There are times – or there will be times when you wonder that too. How can I “rejoice” when innocent people – random concert-goers -- have been murdered in Las Vegas? How can I “rejoice” when people in Puerto Rico are still trying to find enough food and water to survive? How can I “rejoice” when people I know and love are hurting, sick, ill or injured? How can we rejoice?

It’s as if Paul anticipates the question because he tells the Philippians – and us, “The Lord is near.” God is here, with us, in whatever suffering comes our way. Because… God loves us and wants relationship with us…. God is with us – in the midst of our pain and suffering. And for that…we can rejoice.

Paul goes on to say, “Do not worry about anything.” That’s hard too. Don’t worry? About anything? In our world it’s hard NOT to worry. But Paul insists, that rather than worry about it – pray about it. It’s a good practice…

Paul tells us to pray and to remember God’s presence is with us ALWAYS. And yet, Paul is not advocating that we ignore the challenges around us. Instead, he writes, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen”. In other words, keep practicing loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. And loving God and loving your neighbor is anything but passive. But it takes practice. It takes doing it.

Sometimes loving our neighbor means a listening ear. At other times it means delivering a meal. At other times it may mean making a donation. At still others it means simply showing up – you may not realize it but your presence at church for worship may encourage another. Showing up at a Bible study, at the foodshelf or on your neighbors doorstep when it snows with a shovel in hand – all of these, and more -- can be a part of loving our neighbors.

What we do as we seek to fulfill Jesus’ commands to love God and love your neighbor as yourself may be changes depending upon the need. But God’s love for us, for you, never changes.

You are a masterpiece in the making. God has given you gifts and talents and wonderful resilience to help you become the masterpiece that God has created you to be.

As I was thinking of this sense of being “a masterpiece in the making” I was reminded for Michelangelo’s unfinished statues called “the captives.” Parts of them – a hand, a leg, a torso, a head – emerge as if trying to break free of their marble prison. But… as one writer reflected, "When I looked at those partial figures, they stirred up in me a deep longing to be completed -- an ache to be set free … But as with those statues, I cannot liberate myself. For that I need the hand of another."1

You are a masterpiece in the making. You are talented and resilient and strong. And yet, at the same time, you – we- are fragile, mortal and in need of others, of the community and in need of God.

Joey, Merideth and Jessica – and all of you, brothers and sisters in Christ, You are a beloved child of God, a masterpiece in the making – both called to serve and called to receive the hand of Christ … which is often found in the hand of the neighbor. And because of this… we can rejoice! Thanks be to God.

 

Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
+Affirmation of Baptism Sunday

1 Theodore Roder

 

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God is generous – and invites us to be generous too

Jesus tells stories. They are stories with a purpose. But how you hear the story often depends upon which character in the story you identify with.

Picture yourself as one of those who has worked all day – through the heat of the day. Finally it is time to get paid and all the workers line up according to how long they have worked – and those who worked the least – get to go first. Ah…you say to one another, he’s saved the best for last. And then… peaking over their shoulders and seeing the surprise and joy of those who worked – just an hour – you say to one another: “$10 for an hour?! This is a generous man. I wonder what he will pay us?!” But then you get to the front of the line and you receive: $10. The daily wage. “What! It’s not fair!”

Now… picture yourself as one who has sat waiting for work all day. You aren’t the strongest person. The young strong men were picked first as they always are. Next chosen were the older but still strong people. One by one they were picked off. You were left there with the same people who were always left – the weak, the disabled, the sick. You did not want to have to go home empty-handed…again. You were about to give up and go begging. You thought about going to check to see if there would be some day-old bread that the bakery was tossing out. Or maybe the foodshelf would still be open and have an odd job that you could do in exchange for a little food. But then… the landowner came and said, “Come. All of you!” You were so excited to be chosen. When you got to the field you worked as hard as you could – despite your gnarled fingers and shortness of breath. You assumed that you and the others who were chosen last would be paid last – and receive a little bit – whatever was left over. But you were grateful to receive anything. But then… the owner called you to the front of the line to receive your wage first! And it was the whole daily wage! Glory Hallelujah! Your family would have a food tonight – and tomorrow.

Do you see what a difference it makes on which character we identify with? One feels as if he’s being ripped off – even though he is getting exactly what was promised – and the other –feels like he has received a gift of grace.

This story comes right after Jesus has had three conversations about discipleship and money. Jesus told the rich young man who wanted to follow him to sell everything that he has – and follow. The young man went away saddened. Then Jesus says, “it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” Amazed and perplexed, Peter asks about who can be saved? Jesus replies, “It’s impossible for human beings. But all things are possible for God.”

And then he tells this story. It’s a story of a landowner who seems incredibly generous to those who worked only an hour but who doesn’t seem fair to those who compare the amount of work that they had done with the amount of work that the latecomers had done – and expect that the pay would reflect the amount of work that each had done. That after all, was the way the world worked.

If we look at God with the eyes and the standards of the world, then we must conclude: God isn’t fair. But God does not operate under the standards of the world. Instead, God chooses to be gracious and generous. And this is Good News for you and for me, because every one of us needs God’s grace. Not one of us deserves it. But all of us can receive it – because God’s grace is a gift – freely given for you… and you… and you… and you… and me.

The American myth “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is just that – a myth. The term was originally used in a story depicting something that was impossible. But somewhere around the time of the depression it began to represent hard work, determination and a rugged individualism that proclaimed, “I did it all by myself.” But… it’s not true. You may have worked hard – and I support that – I have a pretty strong work ethic too. But whatever I have and whatever I have done – I have not done it by myself – and neither have you. Because everything we have – is a gift from God… including the gift of community.

As we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in October, we realize, as Christians, we are not independent. Somebody told you about Jesus. We stand on the shoulders of the saints who have gone before us from the first Christians who suffered persecution for their faith to the Reformers who challenged authority to those who have gone before us here in this congregation. Compared to the work of all of those who have gone before us – it’s 5 o’clock and we are just getting started.

So what does it mean to be generous? Generosity is about sharing what God has given you. Generosity is joyful. Generosity is about making mission happen. Generosity is about sharing the gifts God has given you. Generosity is about the spirit in which you live.

Perhaps you have heard of “Pay it backwards” generosity. A woman decided to stop at a drive through for coffee one day. She was really stressed that day but needed some coffee. But when she got to the window to pay, the attendant handed her the coffee and said, “It’s already been paid for by the person ahead of you.” She accepted the coffee gratefully – and yet couldn’t stop thinking about it the rest of the day.

The next day, she decided to return the favor. She ordered her coffee – and then said, “I’d like to pay for the order for the people behind me.” She was happy all day thinking about how she had affected someone else’s day.

She decided to stop back at that drive through on her way home. The attendant there was pretty excited. She told her: your act was contagious! We had a record 29 people pay for the person in line behind them as a result of your one act of generosity.

We have received a gift – Jesus has given us that gift. The early church passed it forward. The reformation leaders shared the gift and then.. in this place, people have been sharing the gift of God’s love for 75 years. The question for us as we look forward towards celebrating our 75th Anniversary and beyond is this: how can we act as God acts – being generous to one another and to the neighbor and to those yet to come… How can we pass it forward?

We began last week by talking about vocations – the gifts of time and talents that God has entrusted to us and the many ways that we can share those gifts inside and outside our doors.

Now it is our turn to be generous – to give more than it takes just to keep the doors open but to go out in mission – to find new ways to reach out to others so that they too can hear the Good News of Jesus… so that others may hear that God is generous – giving us not what we deserve but so much more….

Today we will be asking you to prayfully consider how you can be financially generous in our upcoming anniversary year. We plan to invite former pastors and interns back to tell their stories – and we also plan to look forward to ways that we who have been recipients both of God’s generosity and the generosity of 75 years of faith in this place can, in turn, be generous contributors to the mission of this church and the church of the future.

God is generous to us – and invites us to be generous too. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Community in Christ – with Christ

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Community in Christ – with Christ

Matthew 18:15-20

A few years ago a congregation was having a conflict – the person who told me the story couldn’t even remember what the issue was – but people were taking sides and it was threatening to split both the church and the neighborhood. The pastor called a meeting and invited the bishop. The bishop said he would come – but that he was coming from coaching his daughter’s softball game so he might be running late so to start without him. The game went into overtime so the bishop decided to not take the time to change but to go straight to the meeting – in his team jersey. By the time the bishop got there, the room was packed. He found a spot in the back. The man next to him was clearly agitated and said to him, “They never listen. Now they’ve called the bishop – that won’t do any good. He won’t listen either.”

“Really,” said the bishop, “Why do you think that? Have you ever met him?”

“No. But why would he listen to someone like me?”

At that moment, the pastor caught sight of the bishop and called him forward. The bishop – after explaining his outfit – looked straight at the red-faced man who had been talking to him – and called for a listening campaign for the sake of community.

The bishop hadn’t intended to be a spy. But he was there – unannounced and with ears wide open.

In the same way, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."  Jesus is with us. Is that a promise – or a warning? To those who are hurting, anxious or afraid, it is a promise. To those who are seeking shelter or relief from Hurricane Harvey or Irma or an earthquake or a storm – it’s a promise. But whenever we are agitated by conflict, whether it be someone else’s bad driving, politics or hurtful comments, or something else – it’s easy to forget that Jesus is in the car with us; Jesus is in the room; Jesus is present where two or more are gathered. Jesus is with us – always -- with ears, eyes and heart wide open.

Jesus is with us. But…notice that Jesus doesn’t say – “It’s me and you.” Instead, Jesus says, “where two or more are gathered in my name – I’m there.” Jesus desires us to support us as we live in community, loving and caring and supporting one another. But Jesus also knows that we are sinners… all of us…

Sin is a bit of a churchy word – but it includes all the times we mess up, we say things before we think; we hurt one another.

And so Jesus says, when – not if – when your brother sins against you…. Whether he borrowed your tools and doesn’t return them or your sister steals your clothes or your friend cheats at poker or at taxes…or any other number of things… then … Jesus gives us a powerful tool for working together through the conflict so that we can be community together.

It’s simple – but it isn’t easy: it’s face to face communication, knowing that Jesus is in the room.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t suggest social media – not facebook email, texts or tweets nor does he recommend the old-fashioned version: gossip. But while hurtful communication has been around since people learned to speak, it is so fast today that it is easy for it to go sour. One therapist said that most of her work comes from email mis-use. And I’m not surprised.

It happens to all of us – even pastors. We do a lot of our work together with the aid of email but we too can get sideways of one another – without intending to do so. It happened this summer… emails can get missed, someone gets left off the chain, a note gets misinterpreted, the reply gets a bit defensive…. and we find ourselves on the edge of conflict soup. It wasn’t my issue but I could see that the e-conversation wasn’t going well and so I suggested: “let’s talk after text study” -- Because the best communication happens face to face, knowing that Jesus is in the room. The communication problem was resolved in 2 minutes – with everyone satisfied.

Jesus desires community for us – and Jesus promises to be with us in that community.

So the question becomes, what kind of community do you want? What kind of community are you willing to work for?

Being in any kind of community takes work. Healthy communities need open and honest communication. But as an intentional Christian community we acknowledge Jesus is with us – and so we can dare to be vulnerable – to share our joys and sorrows. Because Jesus is with us, we can be a “third place” – a place that is not your work or your home – and yet a place where you know that you are welcome and you know that you belong. We can be a community in which people pray for you and care for you. And while we can’t guarantee – like in the old show “Cheers” that everyone will know your name, we can promise that Jesus does. And that any friend of Jesus, and that includes the tax collectors and Gentiles by the way, is welcome here. (Tax collectors and Gentiles were considered outsiders – but Jesus reached out to them, healing them and restoring them to the community).

All are welcome. For Jesus desires community for us – and Jesus promises to be with us in that community. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
September 10, 2017

Photo by Evgeny Tchebotarev on Unsplash

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      Grace and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!      So, today's Gospel lesson is one that is found in all four Gospels. Now, there are probably some friends and family here today who expect me to make bread jokes. Before I get on a Roll with the sermon, I'd like to say that Jesus wasn't Loafing around. And while Jesus was going against the Grain of what the disciples thought he was going to do, we see that Jesus took care of people's Kneads. Now, before these jokes go stale, let's take a look at our passage.      So, Today's Gospel lesson is happens right after John the Baptizer was killed. If you remember, John the Baptizer was a cousin and friend to Jesus, and Jesus has just found out that John was killed. So, Jesus is taking some time to grieve, and he goes in a boat to a deserted place. Now, other people had heard about Jesus, and they too came out to the deserted place. Now, normally, if someone is feeling sad, the last thing that they want to do is go back to work. But Jesus saw the crowds, and had compassion for them, and healed their sick. Now, evening came, and it was getting late. The disciples wanted Jesus to send the crowds away so that the people could get food. But Jesus said “oh, no. YOU give them something to eat.” Well, the disciples were shocked by this. “we have nothing but five loaves and two small fish” They responded. Jesus considered this and said “okay, bring them to me.” He had the crowds sit down on the grass, and Jesus took the loaves and fish, blessed them, broke the loaves, and passed them around to everyone. Everyone ate their fill, and when they collected what was leftover, there were over 12 baskets of bread pieces leftover. This was much, much more than they had started with.      Now, what can I say about this passage? Jesus started out with a boat ride, and ended up doing miracles. Even the disciples seemed surprised by the turn of events. So, let me say some things that I noticed in this passage.  Jesus is Lord. Even in the midst of grief from losing family, Jesus is still the person that the crowds look to. And even better, Jesus has compassion for them, turning his attention to them to cure their sick and injured. Jesus is the kindly Lord who looks after everyone. This leads me to:  Everyone is welcome. It says that there were over 5000 men, and still more women and children. And each and every one of them were welcomed. There isn't any mention of what these people did, how wealthy they were, or where they came from, none of that matter to Jesus. Now, I don't know the reason why the disciples wanted to send the crowds away. If could be because the crowds were hungry, or because the disciples wanted time alone with Jesus, but regardless Jesus told them the disciples he didn't want the crowds to go away.  Everyone has something to share. When Jesus told the disciples to give the people something to eat, they thought “no way, Jose!' There were way to many people, and not enough food. But here's the thing, Jesus didn't conjure a great feast out of mid-air, he just took what they had with them there and used it.         A while back, I heard a story about a church that had started doing a dinner worship service. The idea was that people come, bring their families, enjoy food, and hear the word of God. Now, they didn't know how many people would come, but they still they started setting up tables and cooking food. So people started arriving, sitting down at tables, and then more people came and started setting up tables. And then the dread moment came. One of the cooks came up to the pastor and told her “We don't have enough food. There are still more people coming in. I don't know what we're going to do.” Now, that would usually be a moment of panic for anyone planning dinner. But then the pastor looked out over the crowd and saw something. The food was already there. Big, 9X12 pans of lasagna, bowls of green beans, plenty of bread, and drinks for everyone. The food was already there, waiting to be served. So the pastor made an announcement, that once you have served everyone at your table, pass the food to the next who haven't gotten it yet. And everyone got something to eat, no one went hungry. And the pastor and the church staff still had leftovers for the rest of the week.      Dear friends in Christ, today's lesson, and all of Jesus' ministry here on earth, is about life. Whether it was curing the sick or feeding the hungry, Jesus' ministry brought life wherever he went. Now, you may notice that today's story was an interruption of what Jesus was doing. But, as I've discovered, ministry is in the interruptions. During my time here at Faith-Lilac Way, I have seen this life giving ministry happen. I was able to eat with you at meals, study the word with you, work with you on various projects and missions. I was able to laugh with you, as I was dunked in the dunk tank at the carnival. I smiled with you as we watched happy couples get married. And I cried with you, and we told some dear loved ones “we'll see you again” at their funerals, and life celebrations. And today, we get to see life in faith continue, as we baptize my daughter, Marit. You see, Jesus's ministry, is about life. Not just a moment, but a whole lifetime of moments and memories that help draw us closer to God. We are all on the same path of life, together. And we have all been given great and wonderful talents, gifts that this world needs! Everyone here has something to give, even if it's just time to sit down and chat. So, people of God, go, and share the life and gifts that you have. The world needs what we have.  The tables are set. Let's share.  Thanks be to God! Amen!

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

    So, today's Gospel lesson is one that is found in all four Gospels. Now, there are probably some friends and family here today who expect me to make bread jokes. Before I get on a Roll with the sermon, I'd like to say that Jesus wasn't Loafing around. And while Jesus was going against the Grain of what the disciples thought he was going to do, we see that Jesus took care of people's Kneads. Now, before these jokes go stale, let's take a look at our passage.

    So, Today's Gospel lesson is happens right after John the Baptizer was killed. If you remember, John the Baptizer was a cousin and friend to Jesus, and Jesus has just found out that John was killed. So, Jesus is taking some time to grieve, and he goes in a boat to a deserted place. Now, other people had heard about Jesus, and they too came out to the deserted place. Now, normally, if someone is feeling sad, the last thing that they want to do is go back to work. But Jesus saw the crowds, and had compassion for them, and healed their sick. Now, evening came, and it was getting late. The disciples wanted Jesus to send the crowds away so that the people could get food. But Jesus said “oh, no. YOU give them something to eat.” Well, the disciples were shocked by this. “we have nothing but five loaves and two small fish” They responded. Jesus considered this and said “okay, bring them to me.” He had the crowds sit down on the grass, and Jesus took the loaves and fish, blessed them, broke the loaves, and passed them around to everyone. Everyone ate their fill, and when they collected what was leftover, there were over 12 baskets of bread pieces leftover. This was much, much more than they had started with.

    Now, what can I say about this passage? Jesus started out with a boat ride, and ended up doing miracles. Even the disciples seemed surprised by the turn of events. So, let me say some things that I noticed in this passage.

Jesus is Lord. Even in the midst of grief from losing family, Jesus is still the person that the crowds look to. And even better, Jesus has compassion for them, turning his attention to them to cure their sick and injured. Jesus is the kindly Lord who looks after everyone. This leads me to:

Everyone is welcome. It says that there were over 5000 men, and still more women and children. And each and every one of them were welcomed. There isn't any mention of what these people did, how wealthy they were, or where they came from, none of that matter to Jesus. Now, I don't know the reason why the disciples wanted to send the crowds away. If could be because the crowds were hungry, or because the disciples wanted time alone with Jesus, but regardless Jesus told them the disciples he didn't want the crowds to go away.

Everyone has something to share. When Jesus told the disciples to give the people something to eat, they thought “no way, Jose!' There were way to many people, and not enough food. But here's the thing, Jesus didn't conjure a great feast out of mid-air, he just took what they had with them there and used it.

 

    A while back, I heard a story about a church that had started doing a dinner worship service. The idea was that people come, bring their families, enjoy food, and hear the word of God. Now, they didn't know how many people would come, but they still they started setting up tables and cooking food. So people started arriving, sitting down at tables, and then more people came and started setting up tables. And then the dread moment came. One of the cooks came up to the pastor and told her “We don't have enough food. There are still more people coming in. I don't know what we're going to do.” Now, that would usually be a moment of panic for anyone planning dinner. But then the pastor looked out over the crowd and saw something. The food was already there. Big, 9X12 pans of lasagna, bowls of green beans, plenty of bread, and drinks for everyone. The food was already there, waiting to be served. So the pastor made an announcement, that once you have served everyone at your table, pass the food to the next who haven't gotten it yet. And everyone got something to eat, no one went hungry. And the pastor and the church staff still had leftovers for the rest of the week.

    Dear friends in Christ, today's lesson, and all of Jesus' ministry here on earth, is about life. Whether it was curing the sick or feeding the hungry, Jesus' ministry brought life wherever he went. Now, you may notice that today's story was an interruption of what Jesus was doing. But, as I've discovered, ministry is in the interruptions. During my time here at Faith-Lilac Way, I have seen this life giving ministry happen. I was able to eat with you at meals, study the word with you, work with you on various projects and missions. I was able to laugh with you, as I was dunked in the dunk tank at the carnival. I smiled with you as we watched happy couples get married. And I cried with you, and we told some dear loved ones “we'll see you again” at their funerals, and life celebrations. And today, we get to see life in faith continue, as we baptize my daughter, Marit. You see, Jesus's ministry, is about life. Not just a moment, but a whole lifetime of moments and memories that help draw us closer to God. We are all on the same path of life, together. And we have all been given great and wonderful talents, gifts that this world needs! Everyone here has something to give, even if it's just time to sit down and chat. So, people of God, go, and share the life and gifts that you have. The world needs what we have.

The tables are set. Let's share.

Thanks be to God! Amen!

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God Sightings

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God Sightings

God Sightings. The children and leaders acted as detectives this past week – looking for and reporting on God’s work in their lives. Because God is present in our lives.

Here are some examples: In the singing… in the children… in the water being splashed…

Every day at our openings we shared God Sightings. One little girl said “I saw God in my snack!” Everyone laughed. But that little girl was in good company – Martin Luther declared that God was unbound by the dimensions that bind us - space and time -- and he declared that he could see God’s presence in his cabbage soup.

God IS truly present in the world… in our world – as messed up as it is. But we don’t always notice. I’d like you to think about God’s presence in YOUR life. Where have you seen God at work? You can write it down on the God Sighting Card and add to our board.

In the book of Romans, and especially in this chapter, Paul writes about the Holy Spirit as not only active in our world but as an advocate, as interceding on our behalf – without our even knowing it. Paul writes, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

There are times in which we don’t know how to pray. Sometimes our world and our lives are so mixed up that we don’t know where to begin. One pastor says those are the times in which she just says, “Help God!” But, Paul tells us not to worry about saying the right words. The Holy Spirit – God’s own spirit – is praying for you.

But that’s not all. The Holy Spirit is also working alongside us to lead and guide us, giving us the spirit and the tools we need.

On Tuesday, the second day of VBS, a little girl came up to me and said, “Pastor Pam… there are some kids being mean.” I have to admit that I thought it was a tweedle beetle battle between her and some other kids. It was music time and so I asked her focus on the music – and ignore those kids.

“But Pastor Pam,” she said a bit more urgently, “they are being mean to him… and she looked at Micah… a little boy who has developmental delays.” Tears started to run down her face. And I saw God at work in her. God gave her a tender heart, full of compassion. And she could not stand to see Micah – a little boy full of the love of God – being ridiculed.

Micah was a little disruptive because he didn’t have many words – and the ones that he had, he said loudly. But Micah had gotten the message. He could act out in sign language, God (point up) and then loves (hands over heart) and then shout out really loudly: “ME!”.

Micah could teach us all about the power of God’s love. He may not be able to speak many words – but he knows God’s love is for him.

In less easy to understand words, Paul assures his first readers – and us – that it is God’s plan to reconcile the whole world. This is what he means when he talks about “predestination.” It is God’s goal and plan to reconcile the whole world to God’s love – so that Jesus can have a big family. But we aren’t there yet.

This is why, week after week we confess that on our own, we fall short. We are deeply in need of God’s forgiveness – and the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction and prayers.

We are also in need of the Holy Spirit’s prayers because as we look for God- sightings, God at work in our world, we don’t know what to think or how to understand situations that don’t always seem fair or right. For example, was God involved when a person was miraculously saved from the burning building in London? Yes! But then… where was God when other people were not saved? Was God with the child in Africa who was born with HIV but has been living without the disease for 11 years? Yes. But, we wonder, where was God with all of the other people who have not been healed.

Like Paul, we believe that God was present in all of those situations. God was present with the one who was saved from a burning building and God held onto the one who died even as he took his last breath. God is with the child who is cured as well as with those who suffer from disease. God is with us through joy and sorrow.

Paul knows that the people of God have – and will continue -- to experience hardship. He quotes the lament in the book of Psalms: "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." God’s people endured suffering because of their faith in Biblical times, in the Holocaust, and in our time too – remember the gunman a little over a year ago who killed people in a church Bible study. God is with us through these catastrophic sufferings and in our ordinary daily sufferings – and joys too.

So what is our response? The poet Christian Wiman writes that our task is "not to ask for release or rescue, but that one's will be conformed to the will of God." Paul says that we can either be “Conformed to the image of Jesus "conformed to the image of his son" (Romans 8:29) or "conformed to the image of the world" (Romans 12:2).

Trusting that we belong to God – and not the world – that nothing can separate us from God's providential care, and conforming ourselves to God's will rather than to the ways of the world, "the greatest honor we can give almighty God," says Juliana of Norwich, "is to live gladly because of the knowledge of love."

Live gladly. Watch for the Holy Spirit at work in our world – and in your life. And remember that you have been marked by the cross of Christ – and that Nothing can separate you from God’s love.

Life is never going to be “easy” or “normal” or “fair” for Micah – or for those who care for him. But Micah knows and proclaims that there is “NOTHING” – not mean kids or thoughtless adults or health care policies or anything else that can separate him from the love of God.

Like Micah, you too are a child of God. And like Micah you too can know and proclaim that despite all of the challenges of this world and of our lives, there is Nothing that can separate you from the love of God.

And so, trusting that we belong to God, we can rejoice – and look for the ways that God is active in our world.

 

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      Do you know what happens when you do a construction project? You get another project. We recently replaced our old shed of a garage for a new one, and in the process, our lawn was all dug up. Now this wasn’t too much of a loss, since it was primarily creeping charlie anyway, but it was a mess of mud.  We decided to sow some seed. If it was left to me, I probably would have done like the sower in today’s parable and just thrown it out there – and hoped that it would grow. Luckily, it wasn’t left to me.  Instead, we brought in black dirt, spread it out, raked it and then raked it again until all of the clods and clumps were out. Then came the seed planting and some peat to protect it. But we still weren’t done. Water. This job fell to me this past week – and that was risky because I rarely remember to water my house plants. But I set an alarm on my phone and diligently watered it twice a day. And guess what happened? It grew! Little tiny blades of grass started poking up. I took pictures. It was a little miracle of new life where there once was nothing but mud.  In Jesus’ parable, the sower doesn’t prepare the soil. Instead, the sower sows seed EVERYWHERE – without regard to where it may land. And so, perhaps not surprisingly, in some places it gets eaten – and in other places it grows for a time but doesn’t take hold and in other places, it doesn’t grow at all. But when the seed lands on good soil, the yield is amazing! A hundredfold, or even sixty or thirty is nothing short of miraculous.  When I was a kid growing up on a farm, I always wondered about this parable – and the seemingly wasteful way that the farmer sowed the seed. Seeds were expensive and it seemed like poor stewardship to just cast them about. But the disciples by now have caught on that when Jesus tells a story like this – it’s not really about increasing the yield in agriculture. And so they ask him to explain it to them.  And so Jesus starts teaching them. The seed that is sown is like the Word of God – and the sower scatters it everywhere. But the quality of the soil makes a difference in whether the seed will grow or not.  Before I say anything more about the soil, I want to step back for a moment and talk about how God’s word, the Bible, gets interpreted. Because this second part, Jesus’ teaching, is like a sermon. And so it is important to know the context - who Jesus is talking to and how the Word of God acts as both as Law and Gospel. As Law, the Word of God convicts us of the ways we fall short of being the people God made us to be and encouraging us to change.  Jesus’ teaching on the parable of the sower can be heard as “law” – convicting us that our lives aren’t always the best soil for the Word of God to live and grow in. And so, as “law” this teaching encourages us to tend the soil of our lives – through prayer, listening to the word of God and letting the Word sink deep into our hearts and lives.  But Jesus’ teaching on the parable can also be Gospel – good news – to his disciples – and us. The disciples have just come back after Jesus sent them out into countryside to be the sower, to share the Good News of Jesus, to scatter the Word of God like seed. And they probably went to places in which the message was well received – and at other places not… and everything in-between. If the disciples were like me, the times when message was not well received were the ones that bugged them.  This is not the first time in scripture that the Word of God is compared with a seed. In Isaiah, God says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”  God says, “my word shall not return to me empty, but will accomplish it’s purpose… it will succeed.” That’s a word of Good News, a word of hope. It’s not a wishful kind of hope, but a hope built on the assurance that the Word of God will not return empty.”  This is a word of hope for the disciples – and for us too. For like the disciples, we too have been commissioned by Christ to share the good news. And sometimes… we wonder or worry because churches aren’t full – not just here but across the country -- and why our children or grandchildren or family or neighbors aren’t in church. Sometimes we worry that we have failed.  But when you wonder and especially if you worry, be reminded of God’s promise: God’s Word will not return empty. Just as some of the little seeds that were planted in my backyard seemed dormant for a time, but then sprouted, the seeds of faith that you have sown will take root.  This doesn’t mean that we can stop “leave it up to God.” Like the disciples, our job is to   tend our own soil, our own garden;  keep sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with abandon… even in or especially in unusual places…

Comment

Do you know what happens when you do a construction project? You get another project. We recently replaced our old shed of a garage for a new one, and in the process, our lawn was all dug up. Now this wasn’t too much of a loss, since it was primarily creeping charlie anyway, but it was a mess of mud.

We decided to sow some seed. If it was left to me, I probably would have done like the sower in today’s parable and just thrown it out there – and hoped that it would grow. Luckily, it wasn’t left to me.

Instead, we brought in black dirt, spread it out, raked it and then raked it again until all of the clods and clumps were out. Then came the seed planting and some peat to protect it. But we still weren’t done. Water. This job fell to me this past week – and that was risky because I rarely remember to water my house plants. But I set an alarm on my phone and diligently watered it twice a day. And guess what happened? It grew! Little tiny blades of grass started poking up. I took pictures. It was a little miracle of new life where there once was nothing but mud.

In Jesus’ parable, the sower doesn’t prepare the soil. Instead, the sower sows seed EVERYWHERE – without regard to where it may land. And so, perhaps not surprisingly, in some places it gets eaten – and in other places it grows for a time but doesn’t take hold and in other places, it doesn’t grow at all. But when the seed lands on good soil, the yield is amazing! A hundredfold, or even sixty or thirty is nothing short of miraculous.

When I was a kid growing up on a farm, I always wondered about this parable – and the seemingly wasteful way that the farmer sowed the seed. Seeds were expensive and it seemed like poor stewardship to just cast them about. But the disciples by now have caught on that when Jesus tells a story like this – it’s not really about increasing the yield in agriculture. And so they ask him to explain it to them.

And so Jesus starts teaching them. The seed that is sown is like the Word of God – and the sower scatters it everywhere. But the quality of the soil makes a difference in whether the seed will grow or not.

Before I say anything more about the soil, I want to step back for a moment and talk about how God’s word, the Bible, gets interpreted. Because this second part, Jesus’ teaching, is like a sermon. And so it is important to know the context - who Jesus is talking to and how the Word of God acts as both as Law and Gospel. As Law, the Word of God convicts us of the ways we fall short of being the people God made us to be and encouraging us to change.

Jesus’ teaching on the parable of the sower can be heard as “law” – convicting us that our lives aren’t always the best soil for the Word of God to live and grow in. And so, as “law” this teaching encourages us to tend the soil of our lives – through prayer, listening to the word of God and letting the Word sink deep into our hearts and lives.

But Jesus’ teaching on the parable can also be Gospel – good news – to his disciples – and us. The disciples have just come back after Jesus sent them out into countryside to be the sower, to share the Good News of Jesus, to scatter the Word of God like seed. And they probably went to places in which the message was well received – and at other places not… and everything in-between. If the disciples were like me, the times when message was not well received were the ones that bugged them.

This is not the first time in scripture that the Word of God is compared with a seed. In Isaiah, God says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

God says, “my word shall not return to me empty, but will accomplish it’s purpose… it will succeed.” That’s a word of Good News, a word of hope. It’s not a wishful kind of hope, but a hope built on the assurance that the Word of God will not return empty.”

This is a word of hope for the disciples – and for us too. For like the disciples, we too have been commissioned by Christ to share the good news. And sometimes… we wonder or worry because churches aren’t full – not just here but across the country -- and why our children or grandchildren or family or neighbors aren’t in church. Sometimes we worry that we have failed.

But when you wonder and especially if you worry, be reminded of God’s promise: God’s Word will not return empty. Just as some of the little seeds that were planted in my backyard seemed dormant for a time, but then sprouted, the seeds of faith that you have sown will take root.

This doesn’t mean that we can stop “leave it up to God.” Like the disciples, our job is to

  1. tend our own soil, our own garden;
  2. keep sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with abandon… even in or especially in unusual places…

Comment

      What words come to mind when you think of Jesus? I’d like to take a little poll. How many of you think of Jesus as Gracious? Loving? Patient? Compassionate? What about: Impatient? Irritated? Mad?  Those last three words aren’t ones that come to my mind when I think of Jesus – but clearly,  Jesus is ticked off, irritated by and down right mad at the people who were too caught up in their own stuff to hear and believe the Good News . Another translation reads: “John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush.” You can just hear the frustration – Jesus all but says: People – how can I get through to you?! Whadda ya want?  Ticked off. Irritated. Frustrated. Mad. We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s the guy who cut you off in traffic. Or who left garbage in your street. Or who didn’t pick up after their dog. Or who posted fake news on facebook. Or who budged in line. Or who yelled obscenities at you. Whatever it was… you’ve been there. Ticked off. Irritated. Frustrated.  There’s a couple - I’ll call them Jill and Jay - who have lived next to us since we have moved in. They never had children but they loved ours – regardless of how much noise they made. They have a beautiful backyard filled with flowers – but never complained about the creeping Charlie in mine. They have always been lovely to us – but they complain to us about everyone else.  I used to try to listen to them … and simply try to be positive. But recently, they have had some health issues and their anger and irritation with everything in the world has increased dramatically. And so the other day, Jill was standing in the yard complaining to me, and I decided to see if I could raise her spirits – and maybe get her to say one positive thing. But I couldn’t do it. If I complimented her on the flowers, she complained about the weeds. If I said something positive about the weather – she complained about the forecast. I know she’s in pain – and probably frustrated with herself because she has fallen a few times – but she is stuck in a rut of negativity – and she wasn’t about to let me help her out of it that easily. So what can I do? How can I “be a good neighbor?”  It would be tempting to say, “Well… I tried” – and just give up. But that’s not what Jesus did when he was frustrated with his neighbors. Instead, he prayed. He took it to God.  Through prayer, Jesus recognizes that not everyone – especially those who were “wise” in the eyes of the world -- was going to understand his mission. And yet… this did not change his mission. And so… instead of condemning those who did not understand, Jesus shows compassion.  The word “compassion” means to have sympathy and kindness. But it has its roots in the Latin word “com” which means “with” and “passion” – which means “suffering.” Jesus shows compassion – that is love, sympathy, and kindness – because he also is “com” – that is “with” us in our “passion” – in our suffering. And it’s a gift. And Jesus gives it to you too.  Hear Jesus’ invitation: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens. ” That includes all people. If you are not weary today or have a burden today – the day will come. But listen to Jesus’ promise: “I will give you rest.”  Rest. When you are weary… when life is hard. When anxiety, fear, and life’s challenges big and small threaten to overtake you, then Jesus says, “  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  This is the kind of compassion that Jesus has. Remember in the children’s sermon when we talked about what it means to share a yoke with Jesus? It’s not more work for you. Jesus has compassion - joins with us in our suffering and carries the load for us. Jesus walks with us. But Jesus is not just for us… notice that Jesus calls to ALL who are weary.  As many of you know, my mother Marilyn has cancer. She began at Mayo and always received wonderful treatment. When her doctor moved to Minneapolis, we were thrilled. But it also meant that he got a new staff. And there was one nurse, I’ll call her Alice, who was very “gruff” – she complained a lot – and she was pretty rough in her touch as well as her words. Having gotten used to excellent gracious care, Marilyn and her friend Carole, who often drives my other to her appointments, were a bit taken aback. But, instead of complain about Alice, they decided to pray for her – and, when they saw her, to shower her with compassion. And, since my mother goes in for treatment every other week, they had lots of opportunities. It took a while, but eventually Alice opened up a bit. Finally, Alice shared the pain that was in her life – the pain that had been coming out sideways as “gruffness” – and roughness. Under Carole and Marilyn’s and Jesus’ continued love, Alice changed.  You see it wasn’t just Carole and Marilyn that had compassion. They brought Jesus too. They couldn’t change Alice. But they could show her God’s love – and remember that Jesus was with them. I think that helped them bite their tongues more than once. And it turned out that the love, care persistence and prayers made a difference. It didn’t happen right away. But gradually, Alice started to change – and to become the person that God made her to be. This is what I’m going to try to remember the next time I hear my neighbor complain. I’m going to work on remembering that it’s not just about me listening to my neighbor. Jesus is there too. And so now I’m on a mission – to see how I can help my neighbor experience God’s love and presence. And with Jesus’ love… transformation is possible – for her and for me and you and your neighbors too. Thanks be to God! Amen.  Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane, Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church July 9, 2017

Comment

What words come to mind when you think of Jesus? I’d like to take a little poll. How many of you think of Jesus as Gracious? Loving? Patient? Compassionate? What about: Impatient? Irritated? Mad?

Those last three words aren’t ones that come to my mind when I think of Jesus – but clearly, Jesus is ticked off, irritated by and down right mad at the people who were too caught up in their own stuff to hear and believe the Good News. Another translation reads: “John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush.” You can just hear the frustration – Jesus all but says: People – how can I get through to you?! Whadda ya want?

Ticked off. Irritated. Frustrated. Mad. We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s the guy who cut you off in traffic. Or who left garbage in your street. Or who didn’t pick up after their dog. Or who posted fake news on facebook. Or who budged in line. Or who yelled obscenities at you. Whatever it was… you’ve been there. Ticked off. Irritated. Frustrated.

There’s a couple - I’ll call them Jill and Jay - who have lived next to us since we have moved in. They never had children but they loved ours – regardless of how much noise they made. They have a beautiful backyard filled with flowers – but never complained about the creeping Charlie in mine. They have always been lovely to us – but they complain to us about everyone else.

I used to try to listen to them … and simply try to be positive. But recently, they have had some health issues and their anger and irritation with everything in the world has increased dramatically. And so the other day, Jill was standing in the yard complaining to me, and I decided to see if I could raise her spirits – and maybe get her to say one positive thing. But I couldn’t do it. If I complimented her on the flowers, she complained about the weeds. If I said something positive about the weather – she complained about the forecast. I know she’s in pain – and probably frustrated with herself because she has fallen a few times – but she is stuck in a rut of negativity – and she wasn’t about to let me help her out of it that easily. So what can I do? How can I “be a good neighbor?”

It would be tempting to say, “Well… I tried” – and just give up. But that’s not what Jesus did when he was frustrated with his neighbors. Instead, he prayed. He took it to God.

Through prayer, Jesus recognizes that not everyone – especially those who were “wise” in the eyes of the world -- was going to understand his mission. And yet… this did not change his mission. And so… instead of condemning those who did not understand, Jesus shows compassion.

The word “compassion” means to have sympathy and kindness. But it has its roots in the Latin word “com” which means “with” and “passion” – which means “suffering.” Jesus shows compassion – that is love, sympathy, and kindness – because he also is “com” – that is “with” us in our “passion” – in our suffering. And it’s a gift. And Jesus gives it to you too.

Hear Jesus’ invitation: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens. ” That includes all people. If you are not weary today or have a burden today – the day will come. But listen to Jesus’ promise: “I will give you rest.”

Rest. When you are weary… when life is hard. When anxiety, fear, and life’s challenges big and small threaten to overtake you, then Jesus says, “

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

This is the kind of compassion that Jesus has. Remember in the children’s sermon when we talked about what it means to share a yoke with Jesus? It’s not more work for you. Jesus has compassion - joins with us in our suffering and carries the load for us. Jesus walks with us. But Jesus is not just for us… notice that Jesus calls to ALL who are weary.

As many of you know, my mother Marilyn has cancer. She began at Mayo and always received wonderful treatment. When her doctor moved to Minneapolis, we were thrilled. But it also meant that he got a new staff. And there was one nurse, I’ll call her Alice, who was very “gruff” – she complained a lot – and she was pretty rough in her touch as well as her words. Having gotten used to excellent gracious care, Marilyn and her friend Carole, who often drives my other to her appointments, were a bit taken aback. But, instead of complain about Alice, they decided to pray for her – and, when they saw her, to shower her with compassion. And, since my mother goes in for treatment every other week, they had lots of opportunities. It took a while, but eventually Alice opened up a bit. Finally, Alice shared the pain that was in her life – the pain that had been coming out sideways as “gruffness” – and roughness. Under Carole and Marilyn’s and Jesus’ continued love, Alice changed.

You see it wasn’t just Carole and Marilyn that had compassion. They brought Jesus too. They couldn’t change Alice. But they could show her God’s love – and remember that Jesus was with them. I think that helped them bite their tongues more than once. And it turned out that the love, care persistence and prayers made a difference. It didn’t happen right away. But gradually, Alice started to change – and to become the person that God made her to be. This is what I’m going to try to remember the next time I hear my neighbor complain. I’m going to work on remembering that it’s not just about me listening to my neighbor. Jesus is there too. And so now I’m on a mission – to see how I can help my neighbor experience God’s love and presence. And with Jesus’ love… transformation is possible – for her and for me and you and your neighbors too. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane,
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
July 9, 2017

Comment