Ruth: God Works for Good

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Ruth: God Works for Good

Ruth: God Works for Good

In a culture that has stereotyped mothers-in-law to be unreasonably demanding meddlers, bothersome women to be tolerated …we know that’s not true….. the story of Naomi’s tragic losses and the great love shown her by both of her daughters-in-law may seem unrealistic.

So, let’s put things in their perspectives.  In ancient Hebrew culture all a woman needed was a husband and sons to take care of her. So, Naomi was all set. She was living the abundant life of God’s promises, even when famine struck, because her husband made the decision to move to Moab, where they enjoyed years of contentment.

But the loss of her husband and sons meant Naomi was nothing. Had nothing. A woman alone was as good as dead. Naomi experienced a paradigm shift – from having everything and being a respected woman in the community, to having…to BEing…nothing. Naomi’s losses left her completely insignificant in civil stature. On her own she would be left to beg for scraps under tables.

The outlook was not quite as bleak for Orpah and Ruth. Still within their child-bearing years, we can assume their families – fathers or brothers, would take them into their households and perhaps set them up with nice Moabite men to ensure their futures.

Now here’s what I love about the story of these 3 women. Left to their own wisdom and resources, each of them chose love over self.

Naomi knew what her future held if she were to be totally alone, yet she encouraged Ruth and Orpah to return to their families  – to return to the possibility of abundant life in their separate futures.

Orpah, out of her deep love and respect for Naomi, chose obedience over her initial desire to remain with Naomi.  She obeyed Naomi and returned to her family.

RUTH, though, out of her deep love and respect for Naomi, chose to serve as Naomi’s companion, comfort, and sustenance in Naomi’s later years, sacrificing her own potential for abundant living to fill a little bit of the emptiness in Naomi’s life.

Her love for Naomi was Ruth’s strength, from which she mustered courage and conviction to live into an unknown future faced with scarcity and loneliness as Ruth herself aged.

But there’s an even greater shift at work here. In ancient culture, each people had its own god. So, a person’s ethnicity determined which god they worshiped, for life.  In a time when the idea of religious conversion hadn’t even been conceived, Ruth, in her declaration to Naomi, took on a new ethnic identity, a new people, along with faith in a new God.  

This was a complete upheaval of societal expectations. Surely, God was working in Ruth, who was not even Hebrew, but claimed by God just the same.

So, what was God up to through this whole scenario?  Naomi claimed the hand of God was against her. In chapter 1:20 of Ruth’s book, Naomi, on her return to Bethlehem said to the people, “Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara (Bitter), for the Lord has dealt bitterly with me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.”

I would love to say to Naomi, “Really? Did you come back empty? What about Ruth?  Do you not sense God’s hand in her decision to stay with you?

As many do today, Naomi experienced difficult times and believed it was God turning against her.

But God promises to be with us and will not turn against us. God is faithful and just, slow to anger and quick to console! God does not cause bad things to happen in our lives, no, God pours out love on us, and nothing can separate us from God.

So, God was there with Naomi and Ruth.  Just as God is with us. God works for good in all things! We can look for God’s agency in our lives, influencing, guiding, and encouraging, bringing us along through the darkest days, through times of scarcity and into a future meant for good.

God’s promise is for good and not for harm. We know how things turned out for Ruth and Naomi – they went from bottomless grief and emptiness to love and abundance. A future with hope is ours as well.  Thanks be to God! AMEN

Deacon Kirsten Kessel

3/13/2019

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Words to Live By

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Words to Live By

The girl sat praying intently with her Bible in front of her. Then, she picked up the Bible closed her eyes and opened the Bible and placed her finger on the page. Opening her eyes she read: Tomorrow about this time a measure of choice meal shall be sold for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.” She sighed. The price of meal in Elisha’s day didn’t answer her question.

Have you ever played Bible Roulette? When I was young a friend of mine told me that this was the way she found answers to life. You just had to stick your finger in the Bible and believe. I tried it. It worked less well than a “Magic 8 ball.” With the Magic 8 ball you got random answers – “Yes, No, Maybe” --- not necessarily good answers and I’m not recommending the Magic 8 ball. But it works better than Bible Roulette.

I was recently reminded of this “method” of discernment when I heard the story of young woman whose mother had told her to use this method to solve her problems. It didn’t work for her either. This woman grew up in an immigrant community who had suffered much and endured much – and yet whose faith was strong. They knew their Bible and found great comfort in the promises in the Bible. It helped them on their journey. Yet somehow… in their transition to a new country… they didn’t teach it. Instead, the parents just said: Look in the Bible for answers. But not showing their children how to do it.

So the young woman I’ll call “Jean” tried Bible Roulette and, of course it didn’t work. But she didn’t say anything because she thought that her problem, depression, was a far “smaller” problem than the challenges her parents had overcome. Jean’s friends had the same lack of guidance by their parents when it came to finding answers to life’s questions. But there was one person, Jean considered him a mentor, who seemed to understand. And he helped her tremendously to deal with her depression. However… it turned out that he, too, was suffering silently from depression. When he committed suicide, she realized that she – and people in her community like her - needed to get help.

When I heard that story, I was glad that the young woman decided to get help, but I was really sad that she was not shown a better way to get help from the scripture than Bible Roulette.

Unfortunately, too often the Bible is used simply as a Magic 8 ball. But the Bible is so much more. It can offer insights and strength for living. It gives us the 10 Commandments – and Jesus’ 2 greatest commandments. It provides guidance and poetic inspiration. All these are wonderful. But what the Bible offers that all of the self-help, laws and rules books and even poetry books cannot the Good News message of God. The Bible shares God’s steadfast love for the whole creation including the people of today.

The Bible contains the words that Jesus turned to – and words that we can turn to for hope in the darkest of times and words of grace and mercy that we can rely on – with confidence – regardless of the temptations and the challenges we face. This is the story of God’s love for the world.

Today’s story of the temptation of Jesus not only shows Jesus’ humanity – but also his understanding of his mission. The Israelites were looking for a king who would restore the political status of their people, right the injustices of the world with a mighty army and, in doing so, would bring glory to God. But this is not what Jesus came to do.

In Jesus’ three temptations, Jesus is tested as to whether he would trust God – or himself. The first test comes to Jesus after he had been fasting. For 40 days. He was hungry. Famished. How could he save the world if he died of starvation?! Who would miss one little stone if he turned it into bread. But Jesus doesn’t do it. Instead, he turns to scripture to say, “One does not live by bread alone.” Jesus knows this test isn’t just about bread. It’s about power. But Jesus never uses his power to serve himself. He doesn’t do it here – and he doesn’t do it on the cross.

The second test is about using his power for his own political gain and glory. Everyone in Israel was hoping and eagerly awaiting the coming of the Messiah to save them from the powers of Rome. But Jesus does not seek worldly power, the power of force and might, glory or worship for himself. Instead Jesus humbly quotes words in scripture: "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.' "

The final test is the hardest because the Devil uses scripture – the Word of God - to tempt Jesus. One commentator suggested that the word that is translated “If” in “If you are the Son of God” is better translated as “Since” “Since you are the Son of God.” The Devil knows who Jesus is – and is basically giving Jesus a way out of the path of death on the cross. If/Since you are the Son of God.. just jump from the temple. Everyone will see that you are the Son of God. No need to go through the pain and agony of the cross. There’s an easier way. But again… Jesus turns to scripture to choose to trust God. He tells Satan.. . "Do not put the Lord your God to the test."

In each of these “temptations” or “tests” Jesus chooses words of scripture to express his trust God.

But…you may say, He’s Jesus. Of course he knows scripture.

Fair enough. However, the scripture is for us too – it’s a gift for us to hear the stories of God’s people – and the love of God. The challenge and opportunity for us is to learn to listen, and not just hear the words but listen with ears of love and mercy and not with ears of judgment.

Martin Luther once said that we should look at Scripture through the lens of the Cross of Christ. Everything that is written in the Bible is not of equal value. He urged his listeners to pay attention to the words and hold onto everything that points to Jesus Christ.

Luther called the Bible the cradle for Christ. The Scripture hold the Christ Child – but some of the words contained within the scriptures are like straw. They may have a purpose – but they are not as important as other words because they do not show Christ.

I’ve found this to be helpful in my study of Scripture. There are portions of the Bible that are part of the history of the people of God – as in how much meal was going to cost in Samaria or how many cubits to build the ark – or whether to wear a coat of one fiber or two. There are other verses that encourage plundering and polygamy. They don’t proclaim Christ. However… rather than cut them out… I let them be – like straw. I know straw is now used in craft projects and decorating but in Luther’s day and in Jesus’ day, the only thing straw was good for was bedding for animals.

However, there are plenty of scriptures that do proclaim Christ. And it is on these scriptures that I encourage you to focus.

In our Roman’s text for today, Paul writes, "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart". He then clarifies this saying, “That is, the word of faith that we proclaim.”

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, if we hear those words with love and mercy, what do they say to you? God’s word is not far off – it is right here. And it is given for you. The word of faith is on your lips and in your heart.” Because, Paul writes “if “ or “when” you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” When we hear these words with ears of love and mercy, we hear good news proclaimed – for you! And this Good News is not only for you. However, if we hear this words with judgment then we hear an if-then statement that excludes. IF you believe.. THEN… you will be saved and if not… you are condemned.

Except Paul never said the “if not” part that our brains so easily supply. It is not our role to judge. Instead, it is our role to proclaim the Good News so that all can hear it.

Paul reminds us that this Good News is for all people. He writes, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.”

Jew and Greek. That’s how people were divided in Paul’s day. Today it seems as if we have a whole lot more divisions. We divide ourselves by nationality: Americans and Canadians, Brits and Mexicans, Iranians and Argentinians. We divide ourselves by color and race, by religions and creeds. We divide ourselves by sports teams. We divide ourselves by political parties. We divide ourselves into class and cultures, rich and poor.

But this is not Jesus’ way. Jesus doesn’t divide us up.

Brothers and sisters in Christ,

Let us listen to the Word of God with ears of love and mercy. Let us proclaim the radical welcome of Christ that crosses every boundary and builds bridges and not walls. So that "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Thanks be to God!

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith Lilac Way Lutheran Church

March 10, 2019

Luke 4:1-13

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." 4 Jesus answered him, "It is written, "One does not live by bread alone.' " 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." 8 Jesus answered him, "It is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.' " 9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' 11 and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.' " 12 Jesus answered him, "It is said, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' " 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

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Beloved: Pray. Listen. Be the People God made you to be.

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Beloved: Pray. Listen. Be the People God made you to be.

The Holy Gospel according to Luke the 9th Chapter.

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus[a] took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake,[b] they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,[c] one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen;[d]listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen..  The Gospel of the Lord…

Down the Mountain…

37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he[e]shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

Beloved: Pray. Listen. Be the People God made you to be.

Not all of you were here last Sunday – but it’s important that you know one thing before I read today’s Gospel. And for those who were here, I’ll remind you too because a lot has happened between last Sunday and this Sunday. So here’s my message from last Sunday: You are a beloved child of God.  Could you turn to someone else and say, “You are a beloved child of God.” Now I want you to claim this for yourself. Please say: I am a beloved child of God. It’s important that you know this for today’s message.

Today we celebrate Jesus’ “transfiguration.”  Although we celebrate it every year, this is probably the only day of the year that most of us hear this word. My dictionary defines “Transfiguration” as a complete change in appearance to a more beautiful or spiritual state.   And that’s what Matthew, Mark and Luke report: Jesus’ face changes and his clothes become dazzling white. On top of that, the two most famous prophets –Moses and Elijah - from hundreds of years earlier – show up and begin talking to Jesus.

It must have been amazing. I mean… what would you say?  How do you respond to the glory of God? Do you shout Glory! Halleluia?! Would you fall on your knees?  Would you be full or joy or fear or both? Would you hide your face?

As we heard in our first lesson, when Moses came down the mountain after talking with God, his face reportedly glowed. The people asked him to hide his face with a veil – because they were afraid.  

But Peter doesn’t seem afraid. Ever one to speak first and think afterwards, Peter says, “Let’s have a building campaign!  We can build a tabernacle – one for each of you!” It was an awesome moment. And Peter didn’t quite know what to say. What would you say?

There was no time to respond because while Peter was talking, a cloud came and covered them. Having never flown in an airplane, being surrounding by a cloud was apparently more frightening than Jesus glowing or having old prophets walking around and talking to him. The disciples were terrified. And then… a voice from the cloud says, “Listen to him.” And when the cloud lifted… there was Jesus.

Listen to him. Listen to Jesus. That’s a pretty simple message – delivered in a pretty dramatic way. Listen to Jesus.

Jesus doesn't say anything in this part of the passage – but prior to this, Jesus had been doing quite a bit of talking. He was teaching his disciples that he had put his face to Jerusalem – that was his mission. He did not want distractions – even good, seemingly worthy ones. He was on his way to Jerusalem. He tells them: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  And then he says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Those would have been hard words to hear at the time – words the disciples would not have understood.

Peter, James and John had followed Jesus up the mountain to pray.  I don’t know what the disciples were praying for – but they received much more than they had ever imagined. And now they hear the voice of God, speaking through the cloud, empower them with three simple words: Listen to him.

It must have been pretty amazing on that mountaintop. I can see why Peter wanted to stay – and to keep Jesus there too. But Jesus is on a mission. So Jesus goes down that mountain -- and he invites his disciples, and us, to follow.

Now I want to read what happened after they got down the mountain.  It’s printed, so you can follow along if you wish. Or you can simply listen.  But remember: You are God’s beloved child.

37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met Jesus.  Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.  Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him.  I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”  Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”  While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.  And all were astounded at the greatness of God.”

Jesus is back down the mountain and immediately a man asks him to heal his son because the disciples could not.  And what happens? Jesus gets angry. Clearly, he’s not mad at the father – or the boy. He heals the boy and gives him back to his father. Perhaps Jesus is mad because he had empowered his disciple to heal – and they didn’t trust him or had been overwhelmed and couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. Or perhaps Jesus is irritated because he is on a mission and cannot heal every person in every town between Galilee and Jerusalem – no matter how worthy the cause. And yet…it is after this healing, that ALL were astounded at the greatness of God.

You are the beloved children of God – and, like the disciples, Jesus has empowered you and me to care for the neighbor.  Because we can’t live on the mountaintop simply singing Jesus’ praises. Like the disciples, Jesus calls us, too, down to the valley into the places where life is not always easy and where we and our neighbors faces challenges of health, poverty, and injustice. We live in the land where demons dwell.  And Jesus calls us to reflect the light of Christ to everyone – yes everyone – we meet.

The church – Christendom – is changing. It used to be that all a church had to do was to put up a sign and people would come. It’s not that way any more. And yet, this is not a time to wring our hand and worry about how many people are – or are not – in the pews. This is a time to pray; to Listen to Jesus; and go down the mountain – or in our case to go out into the neighborhood -- to see where God is at work and what God has empowered us to do and be in relationship with our neighbors.

A few years ago, a friend of mine, Pastor Deb Stehlen, was serving in a large church in Apple Valley, and yet felt called to start a new church.  And so she prayed, and they prayed and long story short, the exurbs around Farmington were growing and the people there didn’t seem to be going to the churches in the area and so she was commissioned to plant a new church in Farmington.  Now Pastor Deb had a vision of what that church would be. She had a vision of leading a social justice church in which people gathered together to make real change in their neighborhood. But before she started the church she listened. She met with people one-on-one in coffee shops, drank coffee and listened to their stories and to their needs and challenges. She drank a lot of coffee. But after listening to 200 people in the neighborhood and the new housing developments in Farmington, she discovered that 0% of the people she listened to in Farmington wanted to build a social justice church. Bot lots and lots of them were hungry for community. Many of them were spending 45 minutes to an hour commuting to work – and that was just one way. They didn’t know their neighbors. They yearned for a place to come and meet their neighbors, a place where their kids could come and be noisy – and where they could sit together and hear that they too were Beloved children of God.

Beloved children of God, God has called us to listen. Listen to Jesus. And then, like Pastor Deb, listen to our neighbors so that we can discern what God is up to in our neighborhood and how we can best engage with our neighbors.

A few years ago, we came up with a tag line that describes our mission. We gather to “Grow in Faith.” And like the disciples, we, as beloved children of God do that by praying and by listening to Jesus. Still praying and still listening to Jesus,

Our tag line describes our mission. We gather to “Grow in Faith”  - by praying, listening to Jesus and remembering that we – and our neighbor - are beloved children of God. Then, filled with God’s love, and still praying and still listening to Jesus, we Go in Grace down the mountain, out of the church doors and into the neighborhoods where we live and work. And there we will find how we can Serve the Lord by serving our neighbor.  

This is the mission into which God has called the people of Faith-Lilac and for which God has empowered us. But… the good news is that we are not alone.  The other 7 ELCA Wildfire churches in the neighborhood are our partners. The Synod is partnering with us too. The pastors of our Wildfire churches have been praying and listening to God’s Word and we think that God has a mission for us in this neighborhood.  After all, time and time again in the Bible and in the church throughout history, God has done a lot more with a lot less.

We live in an exciting time to be the people of God. It won’t necessarily be easy. But Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would walk with us. And that… makes all the difference. Beloved Child of God, the light of Christ is in you. Let your light shine! Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Mar 3, 2019

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Love, Mercy, and Generosity

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Love, Mercy, and Generosity

Have you ever had an offer you couldn’t refuse? Some friends of ours asked us if we would like to join them at their time-share in sunny Cancun, Mexico. It took us less than 30 seconds to say, “Yes!” After all… they were good friends and fun to be with – and… well… Cancun in February sounded pretty good too. It was a generous offer and encouraged us to be generous too.

We had our chance sooner than we expected. When we landed in Mexico, we – and everyone else on the plane - headed towards the Mexican entrance security line. Except… it wasn’t a line. It looked like a mob. In the far distance, we could see some people moving, we assumed, towards the passport security booths. But between us and those lines…. there were at least 200 people. The goal was find the way to the line. It took a while.

Meanwhile… everyone else was trying to do the same thing. It took a long time – and as we neared the entrance to cue line, a couple of guys almost came to blows over who was cutting in front of whom. There was a lot of jostling and in the midst of it all, I almost tripped on someone’s backpack. I looked down and there was a little girl trying to sleep on that backpack. One of her parents was holding her little brother – who was asleep – and the other was trying to hold the luggage – and move the girl and backpack forward in line. We motioned for them to go in front of us in the cue and I placed myself behind the little girl so that no one would step on her.

As we wound our way forward, we began talking with the parents – and engaged the kids in some silly games and conversation to keep them entertained. What could have been a long, dreary three hour contentious wait, ended up being filled laughter and delight.

This is what God wants for us.

In his teaching called the “Sermon on the Plain” or as one translator calls it, “The sermon on the level places,” Jesus proclaims God’s love, God’s mercy and God’s generosity. And then…. Jesus levels the ground for the way that we, as God’s people respond. In the midst of a world of fierce competition in which everyone is striving to get ahead and a person’s worth and status is judged in comparison with another’s, Jesus teaches a new way. There is no hierarchy, no “levels of holiness to achieve,” no cutting the line to get ahead. Instead, Jesus proclaims what seem like impossible “commandments.” Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you...”

This is the way of Jesus. But sometimes… especially when seen as commandments, these words have been used – wrongly - by people in power to oppress others. For example, I heard on a news report about a nun in India who was raped by a bishop. She was told that she should not report him but instead to pray for him, turn the other cheek.

That is an abuse of scripture. That is a use of scripture that is self-serving – just the opposite of Jesus’ way. That is using the power of scripture to gain more power, not caring for the neighbor.

When power is abused, as it was in this case, the Christian response needs to be to care for the victim. And that is what happened. In India, in response to the treatment of this nun who was wronged both by the bishop who abused her and by the supervisor who told her not to report him - a large group of nuns protested, publicly standing up for her. In fact, they wouldn’t stop protesting until the bishop was brought to justice.

Jesus’s words can be – and too often have been – abused and misused.

But what if we look again at what Jesus is saying. What if Jesus is not giving more commandments, more laws to keep, more reasons to feel guilty when we don’t measure up?

What if, instead, Jesus is proclaiming words of promise and blessing? What if Jesus is encouraging his disciples and us to live into a new way…God’s way, and promising us that when we live generously with our spirits, generously giving ourselves and our time, generously sharing resources of our money and our hearts and lives, the result will be an abundant life.

What if we think about how we can live out Jesus’ promise to: Do to others as you would have them do to you.

In Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, she tells about an interview she had at the University of Chicago. She grew up just a few blocks away. But when University officials asked if she had applied there, she said, “Applied? I’ve never even been here before.” They were completely surprised – and wanted to know why. She explained that it wasn’t a very welcoming place. She did not feel wanted or welcome. She said that East coast schools like Princeton and Harvard – both of which she attended – were more welcoming than the college in the neighborhood. The University wanted to change that image and asked her to help them change. She agreed and was hired to be a bridge-builder between the University and the community.

It made me think about our relationship with our neighbors. How do they see us? How can we share the abundant love of God with our neighbor? How can we be bridge builders? Sometimes it just takes intentionality.

Over the past 10 plus years, I’ve been encouraged by the collegiality of the Wildfire churches, the eight ELCA congregations in the Robbinsdale Area School district. We used to be competitors – each one trying to out-do the others, but now we see ourselves as partners, eight outposts of God’s mission field, collaborators in the Gospel. Right now, we are leaning into the promises of collaboration – for the sake of the neighbor. We are asking the questions of: How can we share the abundant love of Christ with our neighbors? How can we live out Christ’s admonition to: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

The same is true of Greater St. John Missionary Baptist. Just a couple of Sundays ago, Pastor Gholston said to me, “We have got to show the world that we are partners in the Gospel.”

Living into Christ’s promises isn’t always the easiest way. But, as someone once said, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” This is a place of humility. No one has greater status or authority than anyone else. But, instead, Jesus calls you all – and me –to not only love God – but to love the neighbor with the radical love of Jesus.

Jesus is calling us to God’s way… the way of love in which there are no hierarchies.. there are no comparisons or judgments made… because each one is called beloved…

And…not just for us! I don’t know what happened on the journey back and forth through the cue lines, but I noticed the man who almost punched out the other offering his hand and asking for reconciliation. “No hard feelings?” And the other man smiled, shook his hand and said, “All is good.”

Jesus encourages his followers to live into God’s way… the way of love, the way of generosity of spirit, of relationships and of love. This is the love of Jesus that is overflowing, overwhelming and that we are blessed to share. Amen.

Luke 6:27-38

27 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

Message: God’s way is the way of love, a way that forgives, uplifts and is kind to both friends and enemies; generosity results in surprising abundance and joy. This is a promise – not a command.

2/24/2019

Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane

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Sermon on the Plain

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Sermon on the Plain

Luke 6:17-26

17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

‘Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,

for you will be filled.

‘Blessed are you who weep now,

for you will laugh.

22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24 ‘But woe to you who are rich,

for you have received your consolation.

25 ‘Woe to you who are full now,

for you will be hungry.

‘Woe to you who are laughing now,

for you will mourn and weep.

26 ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

THE GOSPEL of our Lord.

So, we might notice a few things about this passage. Most notably, it’s similar to the Sermon on the Mount, or the Beatitudes, from the 5th chapter of Matthew. But there are some differences.

The Lukan version is known as the Sermon on the Plain. And just before this, Jesus had gone up the mountain to pray overnight, and in the morning, called his disciples to him, and from them, chose the twelve apostles.

Then Jesus went down the mountain with them – a great crowd of his disciples, and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon north of Judea in Phoenicia, which was further north than Galilee, which was north of Samaria, which was populated by non-Jews…..my point here is that the multitude of people represented many differences beyond a rather spread-out geography.

There would have been linguistic differences, for example, Galileans spoke a unique form of Aramaic, whose dropped or distorted consonants were the butt of Judean humor.

Racially, the population of the area formerly known as the northern kingdom had been mixed since the Assyrian conquest in the 8th century BC.

Bottom of Form

And culturally, Judeans thought of their northern cousins as country bumpkins due to their lack of Jewish sophistication and their proximity to Hellenistic settlements. How could they live so close to those pagans and not be tainted?

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

The Judeans thought they were the only ones practicing pure Judaism and properly following the ritual observances. The only ones doing it “right.”

Indeed, it was a mixed crowd that Jesus stood amongst on that level place. In fact, the word LEVEL, in the Greek, was understood as the lowest - A place of disgrace, suffering, idolatry, mourning, misery, annihilation and death. Yet Jesus went down to them to stand with them.

We might wonder how that looked. A massive crowd, varying by race, culture, dialects, geopolitical histories, and religious practices all reaching toward Jesus to experience the power of his healing presence, in a place no one would want to be. But people clambered to be near Jesus, no matter where or who was there.

And all in the crowd faced Jesus, all tried to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Despite their status in the community, or wealth (or lack of it), or religion, or sexual or gender identification, nationality or immigration status, or……….talk about inclusion!

Now, let’s consider how we might feel in that place. Standing side by side and seeking the same thing as all the people around us. People we’ve surmised to be “less than” or even “more than” ourselves, based on implicit biases making some people acceptable to be looked down on, and others to be gazed up at, perhaps even in shame for our own lack of achievement, or losses, or just plain misery.

Yet Jesus is there. Savior of all. Jesus comes down to our level – into the deepest valleys of our lives – to comfort, to heal, to walk with us and to bless us. To encourage us to turn around from old ways that do not support the common good.

Incidentally, since I’m not focusing on the blessings and woes particularly, I want you to know that Makarios, the Greek for blessed, means satisfied, unburdened, at peace.

And “woe” does not mean condemned. The Greek, OY, is a call to repentance, to change one’s behavior, to lament. It’s a warning to turn around.

Luke’s Jesus is turning human expectations, traditions, and ideologies upside down, as he stands in radical solidarity with all people. In solidarity rather than judgement.

We’re included in that solidarity! Jesus sees each of us as beloved, regardless of how others might see us. In Christ, we are free to be unapologetically who God created us to be! Each of us wonderfully made and gifted by the Holy Spirit, so we can let go of all the burdens of how others might view us.

ALSO, We are called to imitate Christ, to seek out those places where people are hurting, lonely, ostracized, marginalized or criticized for being “other.” And as we’ve learned, Jesus had no problem with “otherness.”

To quote Richard Rohr, “We need to look at Jesus until we can see the world with his eyes. In Jesus Christ, God’s own broad, deep, and all-inclusive worldview is made available to us….and, the point of the Christian life is not to distinguish oneself from the ungodly, but to stand in radical solidarity with everyone and everything else.”

In today’s context, we’re faced with so much division! Where do we experience the radical solidarity and inclusion of Jesus? Even the church shows drastic variance across denominations. Certainly, every congregation holds people of opposing opinions.

Jim Wallis, in his book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, discusses the losses we’ve experienced as the gaps in our society have widened – loss of civility, integrity, the ability to really listen to each other, loss of respectful public dialogue.

Too often, people cling to ideologies that are not helpful. Attitudes formed by a narrow worldview that excludes and diminishes others.

How are we supposed to change the polarized world we live in?

Wallis described one attempt made by a wide array of pastors and church leaders who began talking, praying, and discerning together how people of faith could help create safe, civil and even sacred spaces for truthful and respectful public discourse.

The result of that discernment was, A Covenant for Civility: Come, Let Us Reason Together, a scripturally based covenant which was ultimately signed by thousands of clergy and lay people from across denominations and the nation.

Excerpts from it read, “…The church in the United States can offer a message of hope and reconciliation to a nation divided by political and cultural differences. Too often, however, we have reflected the political divisions of our culture rather than the unity we have in the body of Christ. We come together to urge those who claim the name of Christ to “put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.” From Ephesians 4:31-32.

Seven biblically based commitments – summarized, but I have copies of the full document if you’d like to see it in detail – commitments to:

Listen deeply, speak respectfully, disagree with humility, be mindful of our words, mindful of how we treat each other, commit to prayer for political leaders, and for one another.

It ends like this, “We pledge to God and to each other that we will lead by example in a country where civil discourse seems to have broken down. We will work to model a better way in how we treat each other in our faith communities, even across religious and political lines. We will strive to create in our congregations safe and sacred spaces for common prayer and community discussion as we come together to seek God’s will for our nation and our world.” (Published in Sojourners, 2010)

This is one example of seeking solidarity for the sake of the common good. Where have you experienced or witnessed the radical solidarity of Jesus?

Please turn to a neighbor and share where you see solidarity in the church or in the world……...(e.g. NEAR, KidPack, Cherish All Children). Yes, wherever we stand with others to improve lives is how Jesus stands in solidarity with us, and we with others. Amen.

Deacon Kirsten Kessel

February 17, 2019

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Ordinary People Sharing God’s Extraordinary Love

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Ordinary People Sharing God’s Extraordinary Love

How many of you have ever been ice fishing? How about regular fishing?

So… you have something in common with Peter. And you probably know that you fish differently when you are ice fishing and when you are in a boat fishing in the summer.  And living in Minnesota, you probably know that you fish differently – you use different lures - if you are trying to catch walleye or trout.

Peter was a fisherman. He grew up fishing. And so had James and John, sons of Zebedee. They knew more than a little bit about how to catch fish in the lake of Gennesaret – which is just another name for the Sea of Galilee. They knew that if you wanted to catch fish, you fished at night. That’s when these fish came up to feed. During the day they hid in the cool dark waters of the bottom of the lake.

Peter and his partners, John and James, had just come back from a very disappointing night of fishing. They caught nothing.  They were exhausted. But… being good fishermen, they fixed their nets before they went home to sleep so that they would be ready to go when they went out again that night… just like they did every night.

But today was different. Jesus was teaching some people on the shore. He had already made quite a name for himself teaching and healing. And… in Luke’s Gospel… we learn that, after teaching in the synagogue, Jesus had gone to Peter’s house for lunch… and healed Peter’s mother-in-law.

Clearly, Peter has already seen the power of Jesus’ words… and so when Jesus got in his boat and asked him to push out a little ways from shore… of course he was willing to do so.  And no doubt he listened to Jesus as he mended his nets. But… when Jesus told him to go to the deep waters and put their nets on the other side… Peter objected. After all, he was a fisherman. He knew how to fish this lake. It would have been like me telling Don Schmidt – a master painter – how to paint!  And so he objects: "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” But….in the next breath he says, “ Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."

The catch was not only good…it was miraculous. And because Peter, James and John had fished this lake a million times before, they knew that it wasn’t just luck. It was Jesus. So when Jesus called them to follow... they dropped their nets and followed.

In Jesus’ day, it was common for rabbis to have disciples, young men serving as apprentices. But the rabbis didn’t call their disciples. Instead, only the brightest and best students, those good at memorizing scripture in Sabbath school – their version of Confirmation - were allowed to ask a rabbi if they could follow him. The rest of them - like Peter and James and John - were told to go home to learn the trades from their fathers….like fishing.

But Jesus doesn’t do things the way that they were always done. Instead, Jesus calls fishermen and other ordinary people to follow -people like you and me. Jesus is still calling us to follow. Sometimes he calls people to leave their nets, their jobs, their past lives to follow him. But at other times, Jesus calls ordinary people to tell the story, to be witnesses, right where they are.

In my role on the Synod candidacy committee, I sometimes interview candidates who are wondering how God is calling them. One student, Lauren, told me that when she first became a Christian, she worked as an advertising executive in a big firm. She remembered talking with her pastor about how that environment was so different from her church life that she was having a hard time reconciling the two. Her pastor replied, “You have an opportunity to be a witness in that board room. I would never be allowed in that board room – but you are there already. So think about it this way: You have an opportunity. How can you follow Jesus and show the love of Christ in the board room?”

And so she did. But… after awhile, she felt called to serve God in a different way. She felt called to be a pastor and… a fire fighter.   So she came to Luther and while taking classes, she also trained as a fire fighter. She did not get a lot of support from the other fire fighters. Lauren is a thin 5’5” woman – with grown children. But she trained and she worked and she passed her exam – and was hired as a fire fighter in Eden Prairie. So now she is working at showing the love of Christ at the Seminary – and as a fire fighter.

Lauren discovered that whether she was in a board room or a classroom, whether she was working on a computer, preaching or fighting a fire, she could live out her Christian vocation. The positions she has had are really different – yet she realized that, regardless of where she is, she can show compassion, kindness and the love of Christ to the people she meets. In each place she asks herself: How can you follow Jesus and show the love of Christ in this place?”

That question isn’t only for Lauren. It’s a question for all Christians. How can you, how can I, follow Jesus and show the love of Christ right where we are?

Perhaps the way to start is to recognize who is in your circle,  in your life. Who do you know? Who is your neighbor? Who is in your family? Your extended family? Your work? Your school? Your postal worker who delivers your mail? Your grocery store clerks? When you start adding up the people that you meet or connect with in some way, the number starts to grow.

But… you may argue, I’m just an ordinary person, “I don’t have that gift.  I’m not a pastor or a preacher.” That may be true… but there’s an old Gospel hymn – There is a Balm in Gilead - that says you may not be called to preach like Peter or to pray like Paul – but you can tell of the love of Jesus who died for all through the words you speak – and in your actions.  Jesus has a habit of calling ordinary people to share the extraordinary message of God’s love.

This past week at our Wildfire Confirmation, we had presenters from the Teen Annex Clinic. The speaker for the parents and pastors asked us to line up from one wall to the other depending on how many sexual education conversations we had with our parents about their values. As you might expect, the side of the room with “little or none” was packed and the side of the room that had “lots” of conversation was filled with the children of nurses and teachers of sexual education.

I wonder how this room would line up if I asked: who told you about Jesus? Was it your parents? A Sunday School teacher? A pastor? A neighbor?

All the parents left the Wildfire meeting wanting to have honest and good conversations with our kids about our values. How much more do we need to have ongoing conversation with our families about our faith?  Growing in faith doesn’t end with confirmation.

How can you share the love of Christ – how can you share your faith – with people in your circle -- right where you are?

It might be by preaching or teaching. But… it might be by being a Confirmation mentor. It might be by sending someone a note or speaking an encouraging word. It might be by driving for Dinner at Your Door. It might be by inviting a friend to church. Or better yet, inviting to pick them up and go out for lunch afterwards. Or it may be in some completely different way.

God has entrusted to ordinary people – like you and me -- the extraordinary message of the love of Christ. The challenge for us is how can we – this day, this week – use the gifts that God has given to us to share the Good News of Christ in the words that we speak, in the stories that we share, and in the work that we do and the actions that we take.  We are ordinary people with an extraordinary message of God’s love. This is how we share the love of Christ right where we are – wherever we are. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Feb. 10, 2019


Luke 5:1-11

1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

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Pursue Love: It is “the Way"

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Pursue Love: It is “the Way"

Have you ever noticed that dentists and dental hygienists are chatty people? They love to ask you questions right after they tell you to “say ah” and squirt water in your mouth.  After years of trying to answer their questions with my mouth wide open… I developed a strategy: I ask them questions.

This past week, I had a new dental hygienist – a young woman I’ll call Rachel. In response to my first question about her plans for the weekend, she told me that she planned to do something with her fiancé.’ I thought… aha! So… before I opened my mouth again, I asked her:  “Tell me about your plans for your wedding….”

She had many. She told me about her problems with choosing the venue, the guest list problems, the future in-law problems, her challenge with keeping the wedding small but including everyone… all of it seemed fairly typical of things that today’s couples think about. But in all of her talking about the wedding… she didn’t mention a word about the wedding service. So I asked her: What are your plans for the service? Any scripture?

She replied… “Oh… I haven’t even thought about that yet.”

Having been reading and contemplating Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, I was sorely tempted to say: “Let me tell you about a more excellent way…”

Paul writes so eloquently and poetically about love in Corinthians that it is often read at weddings. How many of you have heard 1 Corinthians 13 read at a wedding?  How many of you had it read at your wedding? It is a beautiful reminder of the power of love.

But… the love that Paul writes about is not… emotional or romantic or nostalgic or sentimental. It is, however, about the way of God. It is a reminder of God’s promise: God loves you’all.

In Jesus’ first sermon to his hometown congregation, he quotes Isaiah saying, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Isaiah 61:1-2). Imagine hearing those words from the hometown boy - after all… wasn’t this Joseph’s son?

Jesus knows their expectations, and tells them, " you will say, "Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.' "

But Jesus didn't perform. Instead, he reminds them that Elijah and Elisha healed outsiders – a foreign widow and a general in their oppressor’s army... They knew the stories.

Jesus reminds them that God’s kingdom is not theirs to command because it is not just for them. And it never has been. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, freedom to those in bondage and to announce God’s embrace of the outsider, the refugee, and God’s welcome of the unwelcome and God’s love of those that they might think were outside of God’s grace.1 This is God’s way. This is the way of love.

The way of love: This is the most excellent way that Paul writes about to the Corinthians – who were having a big church fight. They were a community divided. And so Paul reminds them – and us – about both the variety and the importance of all of the gifts God gave them.  And then… he tells them: I will show you a more excellent way” and proceeds to tell them the way to use their many gifts. This is the way of love, the way of Christ. Love is not a gift that is available only to some. It is not listed with all of the other gifts. The way of love, the way of Christ, is a way to live.

Paul knew that the Corinthians couldn’t sustain their faith community without the way of Christ, the way of love. And neither can we.

So how is Paul urging the Corinthians – and us – to pursue this “more excellent way?” My seminary Greek professor, Dr. Jim Boyce, explains that the “way” is an invitation to a journey, a venture whose end is known only to God. And so we are called to trust in the promises of God who is faithful, and who has called us into community.2

This is a journey that requires participation. It is not an invitation to sit and ponder how beautiful the love of others – say a wedding couple --- but an invitation for all of us to be a part of the way, the journey, the venture whose ending is unknown. This is an invitation to “Pursue love” because that is God’s way.

Paul is not theoretical about how to do this. He writes: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”

Listen to those verbs of what love is. These are action verbs, proclaiming that the one who acts out of love will NOT be: Envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, insist on their own way, irritable, resentful or rejoice in wrongdoing.  Instead, the one who loves will be: Patient, kind, hope-filled, bearing with the other, rejoicing in the truth.

These are two different ways of being. Love is the way of Christ. This is the way for Christians to act, and to be on our journey.

Yet, as Paul admits from his own experience, living into the way of Christ doesn’t come automatically. We are not transformed into perfect Christians the moment that we are baptized. Living into the way of love, the way of Christ is a process… a journey for us to pursue our whole lifelong. And… it is a journey for us to take and to live into – not on our own – but in community, in the community of Christ.

This is the message that I wanted to share with Rachel, the dental hygienist. I wanted to let her know that Jesus has invited her – and her fiancé – to “pursue love” but not just the romantic love that they share – which is wonderful – but into the way of love, the way of Christ. And that… if they could pursue the way of love in their marriage and in a Christian community… they would be blessed far beyond what they could imagine.

This is not to say that all of the problems of venues and guest lists and family dynamics would disappear. No… they will follow you. But… so will the promises of Jesus.

When Paul writes, “Pursue love,” and when Jesus commands his disciples to “love one another” it is not to give us an impossible task. Rather, the command to love one another reveals the promises of God and the way in which God wants us to live out God’s love for the world. We are to live in Christian community.

Again, it is not always perfect – the Corinthians are a good example of a church full of divisions.  And it is still true today – we are saints and sinners…we are not perfect but are still on our journey. But… unlike other organizations whose goal may be for power or wealth or fame… our purpose is what Jesus commanded us: “love God and love your neighbor.” Or as Paul writes, “Pursue love.” And, when we do this, when we act as Jesus would have us act, when we live into God’s way, then we bring to light God’s promises and realize the blessings of Christian community supporting not only one another but also the neighbor, the other, the refugee, the poor and in doing so, we follow God’s way and do God’s mission in the world. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane, Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church      February 3, 2019


1 Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, 2010 https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=550

2 James Boyce, Working Preacher,  https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1540



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ZOOM... Many Gifts... One Body

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ZOOM... Many Gifts... One Body

A few years ago, the leader of our supervisors and internship retreat divided us into two groups – supervisors and interns and gave each group what looked like an oversized deck of cards called ZOOM.  She told us that our job was to hang the cards on the wall in order so that they told a story – and that we couldn’t just make up a story – the cards themselves were definitely connected one to another like a puzzle - expect without the interlocking nodes of puzzle pieces. She also told us that there was a “right way” in which they were connected. … and then… she said “GO.”  

Now, when the pastors and interns got together, usually everyone was on their best behavior, trying to lift up the other. Oh… you go first.. no you…and so on. But with that little word, “GO” -- suddenly a fierce and aggressive competition began.

My team jumped right in, noticing connections right away. There was boy with an envelope that he was about to mail. Someone found the next card that zoomed in on the stamp of the envelope to show…a cowboy on a farm. The next picture zoomed in even closer to show the farmyard. We kept zooming in. The next picture was a rooster… and then the comb on top of the roosters head… We didn’t think we could zoom in any more.  But we weren’t done. We had half the cards left.

Then we realized that we also had to “zoom out”. Working together, we discovered the boy with the envelope was on the cover of a magazine…which was sitting beside a pilot in an airplane.. that was circling  the earth… which was then shown as a small dot in the universe..

There were actually more cards than this - but you get the idea. We were being asked to take a look at our own perspective.  Did we need to zoom in… and take a closer look at the details? Or, did we need to zoom out… to look at the bigger picture? In both cases, there were connections to be made and we noticed how inter-related all of the pictures were.

Both groups got the sequence right. But, interestingly, we put it in reverse orders.  They zoomed in…. and we zoomed out. Again, it shows perspective.

Paul in his letter to the Corinthians is inviting the congregation to zoom out to see that “We are all ONE in Christ.” We are all ONE BODY.  BUT we are not the same… and that is good!  Just as God made parts of the human body differently to serve different functions – eyes to see and ears to hear and feet to walk and lips and tongue to talk – in the same way, God gave people different gifts. These are all gifts to be celebrated.

In the previous chapter in Corinthians, Paul “Zooms in”  - to recognize that not everyone has the same gift. And this is by design. All of the gifts that people have been given by God are valued – and indeed necessary. Further, just as a body works best with both eyes and ears, so the body of Christ is best served by people with different abilities working together. We need people who serve as teachers and plumbers and people who drive dinners to people who can’t cook themselves and people who make chili to eat…. and people who sing… and on and on…God has given many gifts to God’s people.

Luther calls this our vocation. We often use the word “Vocation” to mean your job or employment. But Luther calls “vocation” the things that you do because of your passion and your God given gifts – such as singing in the church choir.  Although I know there are churches who do, we don’t pay our choir to sing. (Don’t get any ideas! It’s not in the budget!). But, people in the choir sing because they have been given the gift of music and it both gives them joy – and gives US joy as they enliven the worship and glorify God with their gift of song.

This year I’d like to invite you all to “zoom in” to take a look at what gifts God has given you to share… what gives you joy? How can you meet the need of another using your particular gifts?  It’s not necessarily just one thing. Perhaps it includes knitting or crocheting…maybe it includes prayer? Maybe it involves offering a ride to church to someone who can’t drive? Or simply – but importantly -- being an encourager of another?

At the same time as we, individually “zoom in” to see what gifts God has given us to share… as a congregation we also need to “zoom out” to see ourselves as part of the whole people of God.  We are a part of the group of local congregations called Wildfire. Together we can support – as we did on Friday – providing meals for school kids and their families on the weekend. Zooming out a little further, we are a part of the Minneapolis Area Synod… and further yet… part of the ELCA. The circle gets bigger when we zoom out to include the whole Christian church…and bigger yet when we include the ecumenical community which is part of the community of God in all of the nations of the world.  

And I haven’t even started to connect us to the rest of God’s creation. Looking back at the book of Genesis… we are but a small part of God’s universe. And yet… God knows your name. God has called you to share the gifts that God has entrusted to you.

Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Let us rejoice in the gifts that God has given us – sharing them joyfully. But let us also rejoice in the diversity of gifts that God has given – valuing the gifts of others and remembering that we are just one small part of Christ’s body.

Let us think more expansively not only about who is our neighbor… but also that Christ’s body is bigger than we may be accustomed to thinking. After all, our world is not divided up into places where God is – and God is not. As Paul writes, “we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”  Paul notes the dividing lines of his day: “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.” Now we have many more categories. But regardless of how many distinctions that are made between people – heritage, country of origin, ethnicity, rich or poor, still…. We are “one body” in Christ. As Paul writes, “We were all baptized into one body.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, We live in an increasingly connected world. We are more connected to the mother in Somalia whose child just died of hunger and more connected to the Christian Guatemalan family that is fleeing their home because of armed militias than we like to think.   

In Christ, we are all one body. May you zoom in to see and share the gifts God has entrusted to you. And  may you – and I – and this whole creation – zoom out of our comfort zones into the world around us to see the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ  so that we can be part of God’s work in caring for all of God’s creation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts.

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God Restores God's People

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God Restores God's People

Our Gospel lesson begins with a problem. Mary says to Jesus, “They have no wine.”  This was not just a comment about the refreshments – and Jesus knew it. Wedding celebrations in Jesus’ day went on for many days – maybe even a week.  Everyone was invited. And lots of people would be expected. So maybe the hosts didn’t plan properly. Or maybe they weren’t well off. Maybe they didn’t have a big store of wine. It was also expected that the guests would bring gifts of wine and food. Maybe the lack of gifts of wine was an indication that this wedding couple were not being supported – for whatever reason – by the community. Water wasn’t an option - it used for washing rather than drinking because it wasn’t always clean… And it certainly wasn’t used at a celebration. The result, for the wedding couple, would have been shame and public humiliation.

I love that John shows that Jesus is a little irritated at his mother –this makes Jesus sound like a real human son.   But… he also solves the problem. He turns water into wine…the best wine and lots of it.. And only the servants know.

Like at the wedding at Cana, there was also a problem in our Old Testament reading that the prophet Isaiah addresses.  The book of Isaiah is really long, and scholars believe that it spans the time of three prophets – all called Isaiah. It may have been an honor to take on the name of the last prophet – like Popes often take on a new name when they are installed. But it is confusing for scholars so scholars call them 1st Isaiah, 2nd Isaiah and 3rd Isaiah.

Last week, I preached on the promise that prophet 2nd Isaiah proclaimed to the people of God.  After Israel was conquered by the Babylonians, the people of God, especially the leaders and their families, were exiled to Babylon as slaves.  A generation passed and the exiled people of God started to forget that they were the people of God. They started to blend in, signed their kids up for sports teams with the Babylonians, and, not surprisingly, the generation of kids who were born in Babylon started thinking of themselves as Babylonians rather than as the people of God. 2nd Isaiah chewed them out, reminded them of who they were – that they were God’s people – and that God loved them and would bring them home.

Meanwhile, there had been a change in the government of Babylon, and they were free to go. The people of God got excited, packed up their bags – and headed home. Except…. When they got to Israel, things had changed since they had left in chains a generation earlier. The walls of the city of Jerusalem were destroyed; the temple was in ruins. And they were not welcomed back with open arms. Their cousins who remained there had started blending in with others who were left in the countryside of Samaria, and were even taking on the name “Samaritans” - much like many of the exiled people had started to blend in with the Babylonians. This was not the homecoming that they anticipated. Instead, they were told to go “home” to Babylon. This was no longer their home.

The prophet Isaiah – this time 3rd Isaiah - speaks to their grief and hurt and anger in an honest lament to God.  We only have the end of the lament in our lesson today. But basically the prophet is asking, “Why God?  Why bring your people back if you aren’t going to support them? Why should they be called forsaken, the people that God left and the land that you promised them be desolate and be called the land that God destroyed?”

God responds to this honest anger, lament and sorrow by proclaiming, quoting now from another translation: “you will have a new name, which the Lord himself will give you. You will be like a beautiful crown in the Lord’s hand, like a king’s crown in your God’s hand. You will never again be called the People that God Left, nor your land the Land that God Destroyed. You will be called the People God Loves, and your land will be called the Bride of God, because the Lord loves you.”

This is a beautiful piece of poetry in the Hebrew Bible. But, honestly, it had never really connected with me when I was growing up. My growing up years were stable:  I was not an exile. I grew up in a stable family, and, while we had our challenges, really…we had a good life.

But at my first “real” job after college I went to work at Augustana, an inner city church that had an outreach ministry called Crossroad. Ethnically there was a mix of people from all kinds of heritages – including African American, Native American, Scandinavian  American and others too. Most of the women were living on welfare – as had their mothers.

Augustana/ Crossroad did a lot of good work with the kids – and with the neighborhood moms, but nothing seemed to change for them until we hosted a weeklong Spiritual retreat called a Cursillo in which messages of love and grace are poured out in such an overwhelming fashion that it’s hard not to feel the love of God. We did this retreat especially for the inner city moms.  

When the moms heard this passage, “You will have a new name… you will be like a beautiful crown in the Lord’s hand… you will never again be called the people that God left… no longer be called forsaken… You will be called the people God loves…the Bride of God...” They began to cry.  They wept. No one had ever called them God’s beloved before. They never heard the promises of God as meant for them.

I wonder if this is the problem in our world, in our country today. We are divided about so many things – race, immigration, the changing climate, what it means to be an American and maybe even… who is a child of God.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I really wish it wasn’t a day off for children from school. I think it should be a day in which children are taught and all of us are called to listen to the lament of people who feel as if they have been left behind and the hope and vision of what could be.

Martin Luther King Jr as a pastor and as a leader was an eloquent voice for a people who had been enslaved and wondered if God had abandoned them, not unlike the people of Israel returning from exile and not unlike the mom’s group in Minneapolis who felt stuck in hopelessness and poverty.  He spoke many good words… but these spoke to me for our time today:

With the voice of a prophet, Martin Luther King Jr proclaimed: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And he calls us all to faith, saying, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

This past year, we proclaimed our baptismal verse – to let our light shine.  Now this year, we as a congregation need to think about that next step… even when we do not see the whole staircase, the rest of the journey.

The Wildfire pastors have been meeting to think and pray about how our congregations can reach out into our community in meaningful ways so that they too may have the chance to hear that they are not forsaken, they are also the beloved children of God.

God works in mysterious ways. Jesus provides an abundance of the best wine at a wedding – his gift to keep them from shame.  The Isaiahs of the Old Testament proclaimed God’s surprising presence and care for God’s people. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed the need to respond to God’s gift of love and light by our showing love and light for the neighbor. The question I have now… is how is God working in our neighborhood – and how can we and our Wildfire partners be a part of God’s abundant love for the sake of the world?

Let’s pray about it: Gracious God of abundance, God of light and love. Help us to proclaim your love and shine your light so that, with our neighbor, we can not only love kindness but do justice. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

January 20, 2019

John 2:1-11

1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4 And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.


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A Love Poem from God: I Love You All!

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A Love Poem from God: I Love You All!

Today is Baptism of our Lord Sunday, the day in which we are reminded of Jesus’ baptism – and our own. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear a voice from heaven proclaiming: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."  It’s just a short statement – but with it, God names and claims Jesus as God’s Son and calls him “Beloved.” I’ll come back to this pronouncement.

 But today I would like you to turn to the reading from Isaiah, it’s on page __ of your bulletin. This is another proclamation from God.  It is a poem – actually just the heart of a poem -- from God, speaking through Isaiah, to God’s people. Like the Gospel, this poem makes a declaration of love, and names and claims God’s people. I think he uses poetry since in poetry– like lyrics of a song… truth is spoken to the heart in way that bypasses all the objections of our brains and gets right to our hearts and souls.

 Here’s the context: the people of Israel were conquered and a large portion of their people – all of their leaders - had been forced from their country to serve their captors in Babylon. A generation has passed and the people.. especially the new generation… but the older people as well… have begun to forget about their homeland and forget about or maybe gave up on God. The prophet Isaiah has just gotten done chewing them out!

 Here’s where we pick up the poem.. “But now thus says the Lord.” But now... With those two words, Isaiah proclaims that God is turning the page, forgiving them for all of the times they have messed up – the times they have turned from God, and from their neighbor – the bad choices they have made.

 With words reminiscent of the very beginning of the creation story, Isaiah reminds the people that God is the one “who created you and formed you.”  In this poem “Jacob” and “Israel” refer to the whole tribe of God’s chosen people and the “you” in this passage is also plural – it means you all. God has formed ‘you all.” God has redeemed “you all.”  

Being redeemed – in Biblical times – was not a “get of jail free” card or the result of lawyers getting a case dismissed on a technicality. Being redeemed meant that someone else – a loved one – had paid a price for your freedom. God says to God’s people, “I have redeemed ‘you all’” God reminds them of their relationship: “I have called you all by name, you all are mine.” Why? Skip down a few lines. God says clearly and unequivocally: … “because you all are precious in my sight…. And I love you. I love you all

Hear the Word of the Lord: You all are precious in God’s sight. God says to you individually and as the whole people of God… “I LOVE YOU.” Hear those words again: “I LOVE YOU ALL.”

God doesn’t say those words quite so clearly again until God speaks them to Jesus, who opens the door for all people, all nations -- not just the tribe of Israel… to be God’s people. So hear these words again. God says, “I LOVE YOU. I love you ALL.” Because of Jesus, this love poem is written not only for God’s first chosen people but now… for you all too.

This is the last scripture that I shared with Valerie Wietzke when I visited with her. And these are words that you can claim too.  

God promises you: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

Some of the images in the Bible refer to the pastoral context of their day. Not many of us have used a winnowing fork on a threshing floor – and so sometimes images take some translation for us in our world today. But in this poem, God talks about water and fire. And we know what a blessing – but also how dangerous they can be. Here in Minnesota, we love our 10,000 plus lakes and being on, in and by the water. But we also know that hurricanes and tsunamis, blizzards and raging rivers can cause devastation.  

And, while we love the smell of a campfire, the Campfire wild fire in California devastated not only forests but homes – and whole towns like Paradise, California. Maybe the people in the Northwest have grown accustomed to living with the threat of fire, but I will never forget seeing the wildfire in the distance when camping in the wilderness the summer before last. When we came around the corner after spending the day at a beautiful alpine lake, we discovered that what had been a green carpet of trees on the mountain across the wide valley from us – that was also filled with timber -- was aflame. We could smell soot in the air. Knowing how fast fire can travel –– we got out of there. We quickly packed up our tents from under the wooded trees in the valley and hiked up a rocky mountain ridge. I prayed lots of prayers before going to sleep that night. The next morning we woke before dawn and we could still see the fire… but it was going the other way.  

I believe in the power of prayer. But I also know that God does not put a protective shield around God’s people so that nothing bad ever happens. Bad things still happen to good God-loving people.

In God’s love poem, God does not promise that bad things won’t happen. But what God does promise is that – even when they do, God will be with you, you all – and with me.

God even uses some hyperbole to assure the people of Israel that God will not abandon them – but instead will gather God’s people, including your sons and daughters from the North and South, the East and West.

And because of  Jesus Christ, this promise of God’s gift of love and grace is extended to people of all nations and people who have no nation, people who have riches and people who have nothing, people from the North and South and East and West.

For when God’s voice broke through the heavens and claimed Jesus as God’s son, as beloved, that changed everything. And when you were baptized into Christ – drowned in the waters of baptism and reborn a child of God… that changed everything for you too. God’s love poem is for you…all. God claims you all saying: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (43:1) and again at the end of this passage, claims “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (v. 7).

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have been created by God, redeemed by God, named by God, and claimed by God. This is why you do not ever need to be afraid. For God is with you.

And it is because we know that God’s presence is always with us –we can be confident that there is no water that is too deep, no fire that burns too hot, no problem that is too big and no situation in which we find ourselves that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

This is the promise of God for you, but not only for you but for you all. And…because we know this, and are sustained by this, we all can dare to wonder: what is God calling me to do and to be today? How is God calling me to live? May you remember each and every day that you are a beloved, claimed child of God, and may the love of Christ poured into you joyfully overflow in all of your words and deeds. In Jesus’ name. Amen  

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane              Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran church January 13, 2019

 

The Holy Gospel according to Luke 3, the 3rd chapter.

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." The Gospel of the Lord.

But now thus says the Lord,
    he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Ethiopia[a] and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
    and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
    and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.


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AH Ha! God is With Us!

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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

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 2:1 Traditionally wise men

  2. Matthew 2:6 Micah 5:2,4

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Surprise!

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Surprise!

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.

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