Blessed to Give

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Blessed to Give

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

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

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

We give out of our abundance.

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

Sometimes it is really really fun to give!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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All Saints Sunday - The Last Word

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All Saints Sunday - The Last Word

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

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

The Last Word… not death but LIFE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

All Saints Sunday - November 4, 2018


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Reformation Sunday - Freed to See, Love & Serve

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Reformation Sunday - Freed to See, Love & Serve

John 8:31-36 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, "You will be made free'?" Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

I went to get my eyes examined. The exam chair with its big apparatus has always intrigued me as something from another world. But I didn’t say this as I sat in the chair, chin on the chinrest and forehead pressed into the machine, looking into the lenses. Angie, the technician said, what’s better, “one or two”? Then she moved some dials, click, click and gave me another set of choices, “one or two?” “One.” I said. Click, click… again and again Angie asked “one or two?” I tried my best to answer.  Finally Angie seemed satisfied that she had dialed in the perfect lens for me.

A week later, I was back. With some gentle yet firm coaching on Angie’s part, I was able to stick a little piece of plastic in my eye – and I could read without glasses.  I thought it was a miracle!

For those of you who have dealt with glasses and contacts for years, I’m sure this seems like old hat to you, but I was truly amazed at my restored vision.

Anniversaries are an opportunity to look back – and to see what God has done in our world and in our lives. Today marks the 501st Anniversary of the Reformation. While the Reformation began as a church debate – Martin Luther and friends seeking reform of the church---it became a fight that ended up dividing the church. But…500 plus one years later, it’s wonderful to see Lutherans and Catholics joined together to celebrate our common heritage and the transforming faith that we share. Bishop Ann Svennungsen and the local Catholic Archbishop Hebda traveled to Rome together with a joint choir singing a newly commissioned work: So That the World May Believe – a Motet for Unity and Service.  Ordinary people figured this out long ago. Now, finally, official church bodies are starting to see it.

Anniversaries offer the opportunity to look back to see what God has done. Many thanks again to ALL of you who made Faith-Lilac Way’s 75th Anniversary Saturday and Sunday celebrations a chance to witness to the power of God in this place and to see the many people whose lives have been transformed by faith.

This summer, I travelled to England for an Anniversary of my own and stopped – maybe not surprisingly -- in a number of churches along the way.  One delightful little cobblestone town, by the name of Rye, had a beautiful big old stone church. As we looked around, I noticed an anniversary banner. Interested to see what it would say – who knows maybe something we could glean for our anniversary –so I went closer. But unlike the bright and shiny new Anniversary banner that we have hanging in the narthex, this banner looked kind of worn.  It clearly had been hanging there for some time. I looked closer to read the words: Celebrating 900 years!

900 years and counting. We aren’t even close to done yet. So… no resting on your laurels!

That’s what I think Jesus was saying to the Judeans – Jewish people like him – who believed in him and were following him. Jesus tells them to “continue,” which means abide, remain, keep on,  in His Word and then… you WILL know the truth… and the truth WILL set you free.

I think it was Jesus’ invitation – and speaking in future tense -- that ticked off the Judeans. Looking back on their heritage, they responded… “What do you mean? WILL know the truth? WILL BE free? We already are!”

The writer of the Gospel of John recounts the story with some heavy irony. The Judeans say: “We have never been slaves!”  Jesus could have reminded them of their ancestors being slaves in Egypt… and in the exile in Babylon… and… the Roman soldiers who were, at that very time standing guard at the gates. But instead he says, “whoever commits sin is a slave to sin.”

What is Jesus talking about? What does sin have to do with their freedom? The Judeans just don’t see it.

Paul’s letter to the Romans gives us a window into understanding this. However, Paul’s letters are not the easiest to read. He doesn’t speak in short, clear sentences. And, he uses terms that don’t immediately translate into our time and culture. First, “sin” is not just the things that we do – or don’t do – but anything that separates us from the way of God.  And, especially in New Testament times, “The Law” doesn’t just refer to rules about how fast you can drive your car, who has to pay taxes, or who goes to jail.” The “law” refers both to the 613 commandments that are a part of the Old Testament and to the natural law of the rhythms of creation.

So, when our lives are measured against this standard, no one gets a perfect score – no matter what your heritage or how many anniversaries your group has celebrated. We all sin. But, as Dr Lose writes, “Sin” here, isn’t so much accusation but description. We are flawed, far from God, simultaneously beautiful as well as broken, courageous and confused, capable of great good and so often perpetrators of great harm.1  

Not one of us is perfect. No one of us is free from sin.  But… we have been given a promise and a gift. And the wonderful news is that, as Paul writes, “there is no distinction.”  Jesus Christ died for all who believe. There isn’t an asterisk that says… except for those with blue eyes... or except for those who were born in Wisconsin… except for those who aren’t perfect.  NO. Paul writes, “there is no distinctions since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God they (WE!) are now justified – that is made right with God---by God’s grace as a gift through Jesus Christ.  

What a wonderful gift!  God’s gift of grace is given for You ALL … And YOU ALL….And YOU all…. And YOU all.  I’m not just speaking Southern here. The You Jesus is addressing is plural – all of you. And…this is the gift of Freedom that Jesus was talking about…. So let us CONTINUE in Jesus Word and in Jesus’ way of love and grace.  Because Jesus makes NO DISTINCTIONS – Jew or Greek/ Wisconsinite or Minnesotan / Mexican or Morrocan / Black or White or Brown or any other color of skin or eyes / Male or Female/ Queer or Straight/ Republicans, Democrats or Independents, Jesus doesn’t divide us up in any of the ways that we do –the Son of God has set you all free.

Angie sent me home with a trial set of contacts. I was beyond excited. But that night… I couldn’t get it out!  I tried and tried. No luck. This was frustrating! My eyes started to tear up. I tried one more time. Out it came easily. I realized: I simply needed practice.

That’s what we need as Christians too. Practice. Jesus invites us to Continue in his Word and share the Grace of God’s love with others Without distinction. It isn’t in our DNA to do so. It is so much easier to care for people who look like us, have the same heritage as us – who cheer for your team – whether it’s the Vikings, Packers or Bears or… whoever.  The point is, seeing and welcoming the neighbor takes practice. But with the Holy Spirit to open our eyes – we are FREE to love and serve our neighbor as Christ loves us. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

1. David Lose: In the Meantime http://www.davidlose.net/2018/10/pentecost-23-b-bartimaeus-and-the-reformation/



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75th Anniversary: Faith Lights Our Journey

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75th Anniversary: Faith Lights Our Journey

I am honored to be here for 75th Anniversary Celebration of Faith Lilac Way! I bring greetings on behalf of the Minneapolis Area Synod and the whole ELCA – who celebrate with you and give thanks and praise to God for your faithfulness and witness to Christ.

Seventy-five years ago – 1943 – what a time to begin a church. World War II was raging in Europe, Africa and the Pacific. By late 1942, all men up to age 64 had to register for the draft. By war’s end, 400,000 U.S. soldiers would die and over 600,000 would be wounded. In the streets of this land, rationing of all kinds occurred – and anxiety about the future was everywhere.

In the midst of a pretty dark time in U.S. history, a small group of Lutherans decided to start a church. Talk about a light in the darkness! “You are the light of the world. Let your light so shine,” Jesus told the disciples. And, our forebears here in Robbinsdale heard that message – and courageously gathered to bring the light of Christ in this community.

For 75 years, the people of God at Faith Lilac Way, have shared the light of Christ. I love double meaning of your anniversary theme. Faith Lights our Journey. Most basically, it’s faith in Jesus that lights our journey; faith in the One who comes as the light of the world.

It is Christ – with whom we were united in baptism – who shines in our lives – to guide our way, to give us courage, to fill us with sacrificial love for the neighbor.

And, the second meaning, it is FAITH – this church – this community – that lights our journey. Here, Christ, the light of the world, is made known through the word, through the presence of sisters and brothers who reflect Christ’s light, through baptism where we’re united to Christ, through communion where we receive the very presence of Christ.

Faith – this congregation – has reflected the light of Christ for 75 years – through the darkness of World War ll; through the darkness of the Cold War and nuclear threat.

Faith Lilac Way on the corner of Welcome and 42nd avenues has brought the light of Christ to countless people who’ve brought a whole variety of experiences into this place, laying their burdens at the foot of the cross. We all face times of darkness – if it’s only that 3am thoughts that remind us of our mortality and doubt.

Think of the numbers of people who’ve entered these doors carrying the darkness of grief, poverty, illness, who’ve known the darkness of divorce, death, meaninglessness, insecurity, self-doubt.

The light of Christ brings healing to our personal heartbreaks and sorrows. And the light of Christ reveals a whole community of sisters and brothers who hold us close and share our burdens, Christ’s light guides our way into the world that we might serve as wounded healers, seeking reconciliation and wholeness for all.

I’ll never forget how the light of Christ shone to guide me in one of my life’s times of darkness.

It was 28 years ago. I was 34 years old, newly diagnosed with stage two cancer. I met the surgeon, David Joesting, before the biopsy. Eager to make small talk, he asked, “So what do you do for a living?” “I’m a Lutheran pastor,” I said. He told me about his own membership at the local Missouri Synod congregation, adding quickly, “But I fully support the ordination of women.” It was sort of like he wanted to assure me that he wouldn’t hurt me with his surgical knife.

Well, though his surgical skill was superb, the biopsy revealed two malignancies. Within days, I was scheduled for a mastectomy. It was winter in Minnesota, 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. I remember the nurse bringing me down this dark corridor to the operating suite. I was scared to death. I was a mom, with three kids, ages 8, 5, and 2 – and I had no idea what the future would hold.

Just before the surgery, Dr. Joesting stopped by to see me. He said, “My greeting to you, Ann, is the same greeting the early Christians gave to each other when they were hiding in the catacombs underground, afraid for their very lives.” “Christos ane’sti,” he said in Greek. “Christ is risen.”

It was an incredible assurance. In the face of surgery – in the face of a future that was terribly uncertain – he assured me that the crucified and risen Christ held me, held my future, and held the future of all those I loved.

The good news that Christ is risen is really the whole gospel in a nutshell. Because Christ is risen, we know that Christ died – which means that nothing we experience in this life is outside the experience of our God. We know that Christ died FOR US – to forgive our sin and reconcile us to God and one another. And, in Christ’s resurrection, God has given us a glimpse of the future. Because death no longer has power over Jesus, we know that death will not have the last word. No matter what dark corridors you travel in this world, it is resurrection that will greet you at the end.

I wonder what our forebears would say to us today – as we seek to continue to bear the light of Christ. What would pastor Seebach say to us? Thankfully, we do not find ourselves in the midst of the deadliest war in human history.

But, the church faces significant challenges. Seventy five years ago, church was pretty much a given; on Sundays the world stopped for worship. It was assumed a good citizen was also a member of a faith community. Now, such cultural expectations are gone.

Most of my daughter’s friends don’t go to church. They are remarkable people – I like them all. Most work hard for the common good; they teach in impoverished school districts; work for legal aid; volunteer in free medical clinics. But the encouragements felt by their parents to be church members aren’t there for them.

Congregations like Faith will need courage to explore and create new ways of being the church so all might see the light of Christ. Oh, that doesn’t mean rejecting what is core – our fundamental traditions, the centrality of the Gospel. But it will require leadership that is willing to take risks, holding firm to what is central to the Christian faith, while encouraging exploration and creativity at the same time.

It is a time when congregations like Faith will need to be clear on their identity, their mission; and their commitment to raise up leaders who can guide well in this time when the church is no longer at the center of culture.

If the Christian story is to continue to be told, it will be in congregations like Faith — communities gathered around worship and the word — and their witness and service in the world that the story will be told. It will not be the synod office; the churchwide office. Our main work is to support you. This is where the story is told. And in this changing world, it will be told by congregations that have a clear sense of mission based on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and creative leadership—both lay and ordained—anchored in the gospel but willing to take risks in order that the good news might be heard in a pluralistic and secular world.

No, it’s not 1943, the middle of WW ll. Still, we gather today at a time where every place of war feels as near to us as the screens on our tv’s, our smartphones. Sometimes, we wonder if we recognize this world of division and despair. Sometimes we don’t want to know. And, yet, we whose lives are centered in the cross, are called to see this world with the same determination as God – to not turn our eyes from that which grieves our hearts – but knowing that as our God is bound to us – we are bound to one another and to all creation – committed to others, their wholeness and flourishing, committed to those young adults who don’t know what it means to be part of a Gospel centered community.

So, secure in the love of God, we spend our lives serving our neighbor. And yes, serving the neighbor includes inviting them into community like this – where they too will hear of God’s fierce, unconditional, and undying love from them; where the light of Christ will shine brightly to heal and warm and show the way.

With undying love and unconditional commitment God comes to you – right where you are and says: you are beautiful; whole; enough. This is Gospel.

So, how will Faith Lilac Way be a light in 2018? We share the story. Live the story. Grounded in the cross of Jesus Christ, we get to know our neighbors, we engage the world, we participate in God’s reconciling work to mend our broken world and make it whole.

I can’t wait to see how God works through Faith Lilac Way in the years to come - as Christ, our Savior, lights your journey ahead.

AMEN.

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Beloved Child of God

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Beloved Child of God

Our Gospel lesson tells a simple story – Jesus blesses the children. But, while pictures of idyllic sweet children climbing onto Jesus’ knee may be the image that comes to mind, Jesus was actually doing something quite surprising. In Jesus’ day – children were considered unimportant – they had no status – there were just a bit of a nuisance. That’s why, when parents started bringing their children to Jesus for him to bless, the disciples tried to shoo them away. But Jesus turns their expectations upside down, telling the disciples, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Jesus isn’t saying it’s too late for adults nor is he asking adults to enter a time machine to become kids again. But Jesus is encouraging all of us to become like children are at their best: They are eager and open to learn, willing to ask questions and they don’t assume they know all the answers.

That’s what Jesus invites you and me to be – open to the Word of God, willing to ask questions – and to not assume that we know it all already. Because no matter how old you are, you are a child, a beloved child of God, named and claimed by Jesus in your baptism and God speaks a new word each day for you.

Confirmation is a special time in which we intentionally explore faith questions with our heads, our hearts and our hands, studying the words of scripture, asking questions, doing works of service, praying for one another and having fun in Christian community. This is not a journey that ends with the Affirmation of Baptism. It’s just the beginning. The purpose of Confirmation is to spark in you Confirmands the desire and tools to make practicing your faith a part of your life-long journey.

Today I want to remind you all of the most essential parts of our faith – and the reason that faith in God is relevant for you and me today.

Let’s begin with the question: Who is God? We respond that we believe that God reveals God’s self as God the Father, the Creator who made heaven and earth; as God the Son – Jesus Christ our savior, redeemer, messiah and friend; and as the Holy Spirit – the One who heals us, encourages us, and is with us always. We will be confessing our faith using the Apostles creed later in the service. We use creeds to help us to wrap our heads around this question of who is God? – while at the same time being reminded that our words can NEVER contain or explain God or the mystery of God fully.

The next question: Who are you? And who are you in relationship to this Holy One? God answers that question when you are baptized: You are a child of God. You are a brother or sister of Christ. This is the gift that you have received.

In the Small Catechism Martin Luther asks the question that we still need to ask today: “What does this mean?” What does it mean to be a child of God? What does it mean for your life that God created you? What does it mean for your life that Jesus Christ died for your sake? What does it mean for your life that the Holy Spirit walks beside you? What does it mean for your life that you are a beloved Child of God? These are questions about your relationship to God – and these are the questions that we, as Christians live out in our daily lives.

In your baptism – whether you remember it or not - God proclaimed – through the pastor or whoever was God’s agent in baptizing you - that God loves you and that you are God’s child. God doesn’t forget God’s promises. And, there is nothing that you can do that can take you outside of God’s love and grace.

And yet… people often find this hard to believe. Some people try to do everything right just to prove that they are worthy of God’s love. But then… they mess up. What then? If you are like one of these people, hear these words: There is nothing that you can do to make God love you more than God already does… AND… there is nothing you can do to make God love you less!”

One person who found this hard to believe was a young woman who broke into her neighbor’s house looking for cash for drugs – and when she discovers that the owners are home, she ends up shooting them. How could God still love her?

The amazing truth is that, while we have to be accountable for our actions -- this young woman was sentenced to prison for a long time – but… God did not abandon her and will not abandon you. The question wasn’t whether the Holy Spirit was there – because the Holy Spirit is there with us even when we make bad choices, even when we mess up. The question for this woman is whether she is open to hear the Holy Spirit calling her to a different life – a life of faith.

Sometimes the environment around us or the things that we do make it hard to hear that God loves you. But again: “There is nothing you can to do make God love you more…and… there is nothing you can do to make God love you less!” God doesn’t change God’s mind about you – no matter what.

Quite the opposite - God wants a relationship with you! And…like any other relationship, your relationship to God needs tending – not for God’s sake, but for yours.

I know that it’s easy – since we know that God is always there and will always love you – to just put God on the bottom of the list. After all, God will understand if you have a paper due or a game to play – or watch or work to get done – right?

Some of you are wonderful gardeners and I am thankful for the people in the Hennepin County Horticultural Society and the Robbinsdale Diggers. They care for - and tend the gardens here at church and have made them beautiful! I’m not a great gardener -- mostly because I don’t take the time. I don’t tend my garden very well. And I really am bad about watering the flowers in my house and office. So what happens? This is what happens. (dead plant) It’s not the plant’s fault. I simply did not tend to this relationship.

I think I’m gong to have to throw this plant out. Luckily, God doesn’t think that way about us! God is always there to receive us and to restore us, to forgive us and make us whole. But it’s hard to tend to our relationship by ourselves. That’s why we gather together. When we gather for worship we begin by confessing what we have done – and what we have not done to be the people that God made us to be. And God forgives us. Every time.

Just like the plant needs water, we need to quench our thirst by hearing the word of God. Just like the plant needs nutrients, we are fed with Christ’s body and blood at the Lord’s table. And just like the plant needs the sun to blossom and grow, we need the Son of God to blossom and grow and to be God’s people. So it’s not that God doesn’t understand that we are busy – the point is that we need to tend the relationship because we need it.

Brothers and sisters, friends in Christ, God loves you – and wants a relationship with you. May you take the time to tend to your relationship with God. And please know that you don’t have to do it alone. That’s what your church and church family are for – we walk with one another on this journey. When we come together for worship, for study, for service to our neighbor, we strengthen one another, we pray and care for one another and -- together – we are blessed. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Children’s sermon;

Today we are gathered by the baptismal font. What do we do here? We baptize. People – not just children – but people of any age can and have been baptized here. The youngest person I’ve baptized was just a few days old and the oldest person I’ve baptized was about 70 years old. Today we are having an Affirmation of Baptism – Affirmation – can you say that? Means Affirming – saying “yes” to the promises that were made in baptism for you when you were too little to speak for yourself. Today one of our confirmation students will be affirming – saying yes – to the promises that were made to her and for her in her baptism. Do you know who makes promises at baptism? Parents and God parents and the congregation promise to support those who are baptized… And God makes a promise at our baptism. God promises the baptized person that from now on he or she - you are a beloved child of God, a brother or sister of Christ and marked with the cross of Christ forever. God promises to be with you through the Holy Spirit.

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The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the 10th chapter.

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

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Rev. Durk Thompson's Message

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Rev. Durk Thompson's Message

Now I’ve always liked Mark’s gospel for a lot of reasons, but the main one is that this gospel gives me the most hope because it shows Jesus choosing a bunch of men and women to follow him who were the most unlikely prospects for future success.

And yet, as we all know now, these early followers did succeed in helping to spread Christ’s good news.

Sure, they needed a lot of coaxing, they got things wrong again and again, and they needed multiple second chances, but don’t we all.

Don’t we all need a little extra helping hand when it comes to life in general and specifically living a life of faith.

I know I do.

I know I struggle with what it means to be a follower of Christ every day and I would bet most, if not all, of you do too.

We struggle just like the disciples struggled.

Now, last week, as you may remember, the disciples were arguing about which of them was the greatest and Jesus took them to task by reminding them that “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

But Jesus also did something else when “He took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’”

Well, today’s lesson picks up right at this point.

You see Jesus is still sitting down with that child in his lap when some of the disciples, probably still smarting from being reprimanded, try to pump themselves back up by putting someone else down.

And how often do we do the same thing?

How often do you find yourself having a rough day at work and then coming home to take out your frustrations on your spouse or your children?

And then what do they do?

Maybe they go kick the dog - the dog which then in turn pisses on the floor either out of fear or as the only response short of biting back.

But Jesus, when the disciples try to change the subject and start complaining about some “outsider” healing people saw it for what it truly was.

Jesus saw such behavior as yet another stumbling block getting in the way of everything he’s trying to teach them.

Getting in the way of being in community and lifting up the good in each other.

Getting in the way of people experiencing the love and grace Jesus is trying to model and share.

And most importantly, getting in the way of Jesus reforming and reframing the way all people are to see God at work in the world and their own individual lives.

And so Jesus tells the disciples to back off as, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Basically, Jesus is telling his followers to just shut up and find a little joy knowing that God’s work is being done regardless of who’s doing it.

So who cares who drives demons out of people as long as the evil ailments are being removed and those who were broken now have found wholeness?

Likewise who cares how a person today comes to know Christ as their savior as long as they’re able to reach that point where the Holy Spirit grabs a hold of their heart?

Now this past Wednesday in confirmation we talked a little about who wrote the Bible.

We talked about how it’s the inspired word of God and that even though there’s lots of different translations of the Bible, and scholars have not always agreed on how to translate every word and phrase, still I’ve got to believe that every Bible translation is truly inspired by God.

And you know what else I believe?

I believe every Christian denomination is probably inspired by God too.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a tried and true Lutheran down to my very core.

I’m all about the distinction between law and gospel, proclaiming a theology of the cross, and doing whatever I can to share the freely given gift of grace as Luther understood it, but I don’t live in a vacuum.

Rather, I have friends and acquaintances, good faithful Christians all of them, who are not Lutherans.

They may belong to Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Baptist, Catholic, or any of the other hundreds if not thousands of different churches that claim Christ as their Lord and so they’re all my brothers and sisters in Christ too.

And so, I think we need to be reminded regularly that there’s other faithful Christian churches out there besides our own.

We need to be reminded from time to time that Christ didn’t come to start a church or a new religion, but to bring everyone who comes to believe in him as God salvation.

We gotta remember that Jesus was born, raised, and died a Jew.

Remember that Jesus’ earliest followers were all Jewish.

And remember it was only much later when these early followers began coming together to live out “The Way” of Jesus that what we now might call the church emerged.

And this early church was not some idealized “Kum Ba Yah” type of gathering, but a gathering at its core and in its inception full of factions and disagreements over what the church is and should become.

Unfortunately, these factions and disagreements – these stumbling blocks - are still with us today.

And what’s more, our factions and disagreements are not only keeping people from hearing the good news of Christ, but are also driving way too many people who were once a part of a church running for the doors.

You see this all around nowadays with the growing apathy, and sometimes even downright hostility, being directed towards organized religion that seems to be growing stronger day by day.

And, like it or not, this view is probably warranted as for too long the church has turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse our leaders have inflicted on way too many innocent victims.

For too long, the church has refused to stand up, denounce, and actively work to end racism, economic disparity, and environmental dangers.

And for too long the church has forgotten that God has continually called on us to execute justice for the orphan and the widow and to love strangers.

And yet, we still turn away orphan children at our borders every day.

And yet, our widows often are forgotten and left to fend for themselves in nursing facilities where too often they’re taken advantage of and the laws seem more concerned with safeguarding profits rather than people.

And yet, rather than love the stranger in our midst we instead demonize them and use them as scapegoats for our own insecurities.

Yes, the church is failing miserably in a lot of ways and so it’s no wonder people are leaving or never coming in.

And that’s sad because at its best the church is needed and maybe today more so than ever.

Now I’m a huge fan of Pope Francis because I find his honesty refreshing and I believe that he truly embodies both the humbleness of a servant and the conviction of a believer sent out to proclaim God’s grace.

You see, Pope Francis never seems to shy away from addressing the big issues that Jesus himself spoke out against 2000 years ago, but he always does so out of compassion and with an understanding heart.

And so from him we constantly hear about the need for the people of the world to step up and do a better job of caring for creation.

We hear about the need for people to step up and start doing something about income inequality, poverty, immigration, and social justice.

And above all, we hear a call for all people of all nations to step up and just begin looking out for one another and the common good of all.

Now, a few years ago when Pope Francis was visiting the U.S. he gave what just might have been one of the best Law and Gospel addresses I’ve ever heard.

It was a classic message that simultaneously was able to remind me of everything good about America and also reflected for me some of our deepest and most ugly shortcomings if I’m strong enough to admit it.

And what Pope Francis said at the time was,

“A nation can [only] be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, [and when] the fruit of a faith…becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”

Similarly, I believe if the church is to stay or once again become relevant in the world today than every church along with every Christian must heed the Pope’s warning for our nation and claim it as their mission for the church and in their individual lives.

Because only then will the church bear fruit, only then will the church be healthy, and only then can the church become relevant once again.

As Jesus sat with a child on his lap talking with his disciples he goes out of his way to stress how important it is to watch our actions and words around children because what they observe and hear will influence how they grow up living and acting in the world.

Jesus warns both the disciples and us hearing these words today to not put stumbling blocks in their way.

Rather, we must go out of our way to remove every obstacle blocking a child’s view and our own view of God’s unending and relentless love for us.

A love poured out every day, but especially poured out when we gather together in Christian community remembering that we’ve not only been claimed and adopted by God through the waters of our baptism, but we’ve also been fortified to go out and do something big.

Something big for the sake of the gospel; a gospel of good news everyone deserves to hear and to experience first-hand! Amen.

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All Are Welcome

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All Are Welcome

I have always enjoyed visiting my aunt Ethel and uncle Howard in Pella, Iowa. It wasn’t just because my uncle owned the bakery in town and so there were always scrumptious coffee cakes for breakfast and Dutch pastries for dessert. It wasn’t because they did special things for us – but rather the opposite. They always welcomed me into the “ordinary” parts of their lives. And they were always gracious. Aunt Ethel always made sure that the right thing was done – and Uncle Howard always laughed and said… “well… Ethel said it so that’s how it’s going to be.

I traveled again to Pella on Friday for the funeral of my Uncle.  While not completely unexpected -- it still came as a surprise to the family.  I planned to go to the funeral with my mother - but in the midst of their grief I did not want to cause any work or distraction for them so I offered to stay in a hotel. But as soon as my aunt Ethel heard about that, she sent the message back: You will stay with me. Well… Ethel said it… so that’s how it’s going to be.  Ethel’s hospitality always wins.

Hospitality. Generosity of Spirit. Kindness. These are the traits that Jesus wants in his disciples – but not just for family and friends.

Jesus caught them in an argument. He said, "What were you arguing about on the way?" They were busted. They were arguing about who was the greatest disciple. But instead of chastising them or preaching to them about the way they ought to behave, Jesus pointed out what it means to be a disciple, what it means to be a follower of Christ by bringing a child into the midst of them.

In Jesus’ day, children ranked really low in terms of status. And yet… Jesus lifted one of these up.  Who is the person without status today? The homeless? Those on drugs? Those who are Muslim? A person of color or queer or an immigrant?

Who would we welcome? And who would we rather not welcome?

As Christians, as followers of Christ, we are called to love – not from a distance – but up close, to love in a way that welcomes our neighbor… even the one who is disagreeable, the one who smells bad… the one who is too loud or bossy or who comes off as a know-it-all or even the one who votes differently from you.  

A pastor friend invited our youth to Westwood – my home congregation -- to come to a concert. She told me that a young man who was a pastor’s kid was trying to beat the world record for the youngest person to visit all of the National park lands in the United States. He was telling his story about being welcomed into churches to “sing for his supper.”  So our Confirmation class - and some parents and I -- went to hear Mikah Meyer.

It turns out that Mikah’s mission began because his dad loved to drive – and had always wanted to drive to the national parks – but died unexpectedly, at a young age. So Mikah wanted to do this drive – and tell people to “seize the day! Enjoy the beautiful world that God has given to us!” That’s what he thought his mission was. But… it became more than that.

Mikah sought – and got lots of media attention for this three-year trip.  And, he tried to get sponsorships from businesses to pay for it. But no one agreed to help. He thought he knew why: Mikah is gay. Mikah had tried to hide this when he was applying to businesses – but the internet doesn’t forget information and his name – Mikah - immediately got linked to a group that he had started in Washington DC: Queers for Christ.  So some businesses where turned off because he was gay – and others didn’t want to touch him because he was Christian.

Mikah had saved quite a bit of money for this event – so he decided to take his trip anyway. He sold his stuff, bought a van to sleep in and decided to do the trip on the cheap – despite not raising the money he was told that he would need. Not surprisingly, he ran out of money. He was just about to give up on his mission when a pastor friend in Florida called him and said, “Mikah – come and sing for our church… and we’ll raise enough money for you to get to your next park.” So he did.  He went to the church and “sang for his supper.”

That’s how Mikah is advertised – as “singing for his supper.” But… when we went to hear him… I was blown away. I expected a guy with a guitar singing camp songs. But instead, Mikah, accompanied by a piano, sets down the microphone and his voice fills the church -- and Westwood is a big church – as he performs works from Handel to Gospel -with his operatic countertenor voice booming and reaching notes as high as any soprano.

His voice alone would be remarkable – but after he finished his song, the pastor said, “Mikah – instead of my sermon today - why don’t you tell your story?” And so he did.

After that… Mikah realized he had another mission and that was to share his story of being a child of God – and being gay. He told his story of being rejected by some Christians and told he was going to hell. And yet… he remembered what his father told him: You are a child of God. God loves you.

After he finished his sermon – people came up to him with tears in their eyes. They each told their story - my daughter… my nephew… my sister…has never felt welcome in church. A youth wrote to him and said, “I’m gay. You are an inspiration to me.” And then he realized, he had another mission… he had a mission to share his gift of his voice and to tell his story…for the sake of other people who felt rejected, or shamed because of who they are. And his mission field was: Christians.

Since then, as Mikah traveled from National Park to National Park he has also traveled from church to church, telling his story – and sharing the love of Christ. For, as Mikah said, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, people want and need the love of God and need to share love with their neighbor.  In response to his story and his song, people in churches have been generous to him. They are the ones who made it possible for him to continue his journey. Not all churches were willing to open their doors – but enough so that as word of his message and his incredible voice spread – he found himself welcomed again and again.

Jesus calls us to welcome the “other” as if that person were Jesus. Sometimes that’s a friend or someone that anyone would love to welcome… but sometimes our neighbor isn’t so easy to love.

When I grew up on the farm, we always took our shoes off. There was a pretty practical reason for this… my shoes were always dirty.  When you come here, you come through the doors of God’s house and we say a confession together. It’s like taking off our dirty shoes. We admit that we aren’t perfect… And when we leave fed  - we have been fed by the Word of God, uplifted in song, encouraged by one another and… ready to go back out to the world to love and welcome the neighbor. That’s our mission. We are to go in grace, grow in faith and serve the Lord in Jesus’ name. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith Lilac Way

September 22, 2018

Mark 9:30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

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Following Jesus

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Following Jesus

Jesus says: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

“Take up your cross.” “This is your cross to bear.” You’ve probably heard these words before. But too often, these words have been misused and abused. I have heard too many stories from women who are victims of domestic abuse that they were told the abuse they suffered was “your cross to bear.”

Other people have said that when bad things happen such as you or someone you love gets cancer or another disease, children get hurt, or people die too soon that they are told this is “your cross to bear.” But this is not what Jesus means when he says, “take up your cross.”

Let’s take a look at the story. Prior to our Gospel lesson, Jesus has healed people, cast out demons, argued with religious authorities and fed thousands of people with just a couple of loaves of bread and a few fish. Naturally, people are talking about Jesus. People are wondering: who is he? Who is the one who can make the blind to see and the lame to walk, who speaks with authority and opens up scriptures in new and wonderful ways. And of course… they have some ideas.

Jesus asks- actually the word is “interrogates” the disciples – “Who do people say that I am?” So the disciples spout off the usual: Elijah, John the Baptist (remember Herod has just recently cut off John’s head), or one of the prophets. Then Jesus asks: Who do YOU say that I am?

There has been no talk about Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, up to this point in Mark’s Gospel, but somehow, Peter nails it. You are the Messiah!

But…when Jesus starts to explain what that means… that is, that he must suffer, die and rise again, Peter… rebukes Jesus.

It wasn’t a good idea. But Peter wasn’t alone. He just made the mistake of saying what everyone else was thinking: They had been taught that the Messiah would bring in an era of freedom from oppressors – like the Romans, restore Israel to power amongst the nations and bring peace, purity, prosperity, righteousness and justice to the land. They had been longing for the Messiah – and now that Jesus had come…they thought they were ready for Victory!

Instead, Jesus rebukes Peter, calls him Satan and accuses him of focusing on earthly things – not heavenly things.

Jesus goes on to say, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves.” This doesn’t mean that you should deny the gifts that God has given you. God wants you to use your gifts and talents to be the person God made you to be.

It is these “earthly things” – and Peter’s desire to tell Jesus what

Jesus did not come to fulfill Peter’s, the crowd’s or OUR expectations. Jesus came to save us. And it wasn’t going to happen in the way anyone expected. Jesus colors outside the lines.

Likewise, as Christians today in an increasingly diverse and changing world, instead of trying to make God fit into our plan, we need to ask how we can be a part of God’s mission.

And Jesus, when he says, “take up your cross,” is warning us that it is not always going to be easy to be his follower. Taking up your cross means being a witness for Jesus. As our culture changes, it is getting harder. We can no longer assume that our neighbor is Christian. And yet… Jesus invites you to follow.

So how can we follow Jesus?

Seven faith practices – Worship, Pray, Encourage, Learn, Give, Share, Invite are written on our wall in the narthex. These faith practices help us grow in faith and in discipleship – the church term for following Jesus. And you are already doing at least one of them - Worshipping - right now. But following Jesus is not just a set of practices, like an exercise routine. It’s a way of life and can take many forms. For example:

Alex is a follower of Jesus. Born in Cameroon, he fled the country when his father lost the election and the new leader threatened to kill their family. A good student, Alex was accepted at a Paris university with a full scholarship – despite living in a refugee camp and taking his high school classes on-line. But the summer before he was to start college, he brought a children’s church choir that he began in the refugee camp on tour in the United States. While here, someone stole his passport. He was devastated. He was unable to leave – or work. His money lasted only a short time and then he was homeless. But, Alex was a follower of Jesus and so he joined a church and volunteered. When church members discovered that he was homeless, they took him in and worked to get him his passport. In the midst of it Alex discovered a new call to ministry.

Brenda is a follower of Jesus. She didn’t grow up in church but her grandma sometimes brought her. She remembers, as a child, going to the front of the church to ask to be baptized. Her faith grew through confirmation. But then, as a young woman, engaged to be married, she got ovarian cancer. Prayers went out – and we rejoiced when operation was successful. She and her husband later adopted a boy with severe behavioral difficulties. Then, her husband got sick and died. Suddenly Brenda was a single mom of a very difficult teenager. Again, she felt surrounded with prayer and care. When I asked her, why do you follow Jesus? She said, because I have faith. I can’t imagine my life without hope.

Jane is a follower of Jesus. Her parents dropped her off at church but somehow didn’t think it was important for them to go. Yet, faith grew in Jane, at first because of the friends that she made – and then because of the love of Jesus that she received. But her life wasn’t always easy. At one very difficult time, a time when tragedy struck her family, she called her friend to say, “I am having a really hard time keeping faith right now.” Her friend said, “Then I will believe for you – until you can believe again.” It was a struggle, but Jane is back.

Paul is a follower of Jesus. Paul was serving at a free meal that his church was sponsoring when he noticed a big man who was being pretty gruff with the people around him – obviously had a chip on his shoulder. He sat down beside this man, whose name is John, introduced himself and then noticed something…. Paul said, John, you and I have something in common. John said: Yeah right. But then Paul pointed to the cross that was around John’s neck -- and then pulled out his own. You and I are both followers of Jesus.

Different stories – and yet all followers of Jesus. And then… there are all of you. I could go on and on telling stories of faith – not to compare them, because each person and each story is different – but because each story encourages me –and I hope you – about living a life of faith and following Jesus.

None of the people in the stories that I told are perfect. None are “stars.” In fact, they would consider themselves fairly ordinary people. All have had challenges in their lives. But, they all practice their faith because they know that Jesus loves them – and they love Jesus. This is why they show up and follow Jesus. And so can we. Because sometimes, following Jesus is just about showing up, doing the faith practices and praying for the courage to follow Jesus. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

September 16, 2018

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?"And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

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Ephphatha! Be Opened!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus seems very human.  While each of the Gospels portray Jesus as both God and human, Jesus is the most “earthy” in the Gospel of Mark. Today’s reading is a good example.

Jesus wanted to get away. And who could blame him!? He has been interacting with fussy, needy people and religious leaders who question his and his disciples every move. He wants a break – so they travel… “up North.”

Sound familiar? A number of us want to go “up North” for a little quiet, perhaps a little fishing, and relaxing… but certainly a little bit of a get-away from the busyness of life.

But for Jesus, “up North” isn’t Eli or the North shore. It’s the Gentile –not Jewish-- town of Tyre.  It’s a place where no one would expect a Jewish rabbi. He goes into a house where he thinks that he is anonymous and can rest but no sooner does he sit down than he is greeted by yet another request for healing – this time from a gentile woman of Syrophoenician origin.

She was the ultimate outsider in Jesus’ world. She was gentile – that is, not part of Israel, the people of God. She descended from the Syrophoenicians – Israel’s arch-enemies. Seeing her would have been like Bin Laden’s mother showing up at the White House asking for asylum. This woman was the last person that anyone would have wanted in their house. Not only is she a woman, acting on her own – which made her less respectable, but her daughter had a demon – which probably made her act in disruptive and crazy, socially unacceptable ways.  It’s hard to imagine how she got in to that room. And yet… there she was. And she was down on her knees, begging Jesus to heal her daughter.

Confession here: I’ve never liked Jesus’s initial response.  "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."  He calls her a dog. Technically a little dog. But that’s not any better. This is probably the most offensive thing that Jesus says in any Gospel.  So what do we make of this?

Some scholars think that Jesus was just testing her faith. Others give him a pass because Jesus is human after all and after healing, preaching and teaching and walking the distance to Duluth – which would be about what he had just done…he’s tired. Others think that these words were simply a common folk saying of the day – something that sounds more offensive to 21st Century ears than it would have to people in his day. After all, the people of Israel were the children of God – set apart - and God promised them that Messiah would come – for them. It’s not hard to see how they interpreted this as meaning ONLY for them or at least for them FIRST. But, even remembering that Jesus is pretty “earthy” in Mark, these are still hard words to hear from JESUS - then and now. If you’ve ever been called a dog – or any other slur—you know it’s not easy to just let these words slide off like water on a duck’s back.  Words can hurt.

Words are remembered. Indeed, these words have been used against Jesus. Elizabeth Johnson - a pastor/ theologian friend of mine who is serving in Cameroon -- writes that this verse is used to dissuade people in Africa from becoming Christian. People from other faiths in her neighborhood say – “see, Jesus is not for us. He came only for the Jewish people.” But Pr. Elizabeth reminds them – and us – look at the whole story. Don’t take that verse – or any verse – out of context.  Read the rest of the story.

Somehow the Holy Spirit gave this desperate mother the courage to respond to these hurtful words with humility and grace: She countered: "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."  And after she said that….it was as if a light went on for Jesus. Suddenly… Jesus was opened up to sharing God’s love and grace and healing power with ALL people. And he does.

Jesus travels back south on the Gentile side and when people bring him a man who is both deaf and has a speech impediment, Jesus doesn’t hesitate. He puts his fingers into the man’s ears, spits and touches his tongue and says “Ephphatha.”  “Be opened.” And suddenly, the man can hear and speak plainly. And while Jesus tells the people to be silent – their tongues have been opened too and they cannot help but tell the Good News of what God has done.

“Ephphatha." "Be opened."  That is what the Holy Spirit is calling us to be too: “Be opened.”  Be open to hearing new ways that we can bring the light of Christ, the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit into our community, your family, your friends, the people you see at the water fountain, the grocery store or at the bar.  The Holy Spirit has no bounds. Ephphatha. Be Opened. 

But what and how are we to be opened? That’s what we are going to be exploring this fall. Even as we celebrate and reflect upon the ways that God has worked in this Congregation over the last 75 years, we are going to be open to the ways that God is calling us to live into the mission of God today and tomorrow.  God expands Jesus’ mission – and ours.

The Gospel lessons for this Fall come from the Gospel of Mark and they are all about discipleship. Discipleship is a “churchy” word but it means living your life faithfully, following Jesus and being the person that God made you to be. It means being open to listen to and open to hear God’s Word, open to letting God work through you. Despite the challenges in our lives, Jesus calls us to be open to the Spirit’s expansive and healing power.  But… here’s a warning: it might not be in the way that we expect.

Looking at these two stories, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that if you just pray hard enough, if you just beg Jesus, then you or someone you love can be healed.  Don’t misunderstand me, I highly recommend prayer. I believe that prayer works – both for the person that you are praying for – and for the person praying. However… I have also learned that the Holy Spirit is not predictable and cannot be controlled or manipulated or and cannot be directed. Prayers are answered. BUT…not everyone is healed in the way that we ask. 

For example, this past week Pastor Stephanie from Edina Community Lutheran went to the doctor for a routine treatment. The next day she ended up fainting. She went back to the doctor – they discovered bleeding in her brain and erratic heartbeat. The church leaders sent out prayer requests and we prayed. The family shared the story on caring bridge – and more people prayed. There was an army of faithful prayers praying for this mother of three young children, this faithful pastor, this beautiful child of God. The doctors did emergency surgery on Friday – successfully. We all gave thanks – and went to bed. The next morning… we got the news: Complications arose - and Stephanie died. What?! Just like that?! The people of her church, family, friends, pastors and colleagues are all heart broken. Why didn’t God answer our prayers in the way that we wanted? Did we not pray – or beg -- hard enough?

We all know people who – in our minds – died too soon. We have prayers that were not answered in the way that we wanted. But that does not mean that the Holy Spirit wasn’t listening. That doesn’t mean that God is not working in the world.  Quite the opposite.  

It reminds us that, first of all, God’s ways are not known to us – we get glimpses – but we only see in part what God sees fully. Secondly, despite the challenges in our lives, Jesus calls us to be open to the Spirit’s expansive and healing power. We don’t always know where the Holy Spirit will lead us. But God gives us faith – and the courage to follow --- and to believe that in the end, God’s grace, love and mercy always prevails. God’s grace, love and mercy always triumphs.

So what does this mean for you and me? Jesus is calling YOU.. to follow...and to be open to the unexpected ways that God is at work in our world …despite the challenges and the heartaches that we encounter.  Jesus is calling YOU to share the love of God not only with your family, friends, and neighbors but also with the other, the stranger, the person who doesn’t look like you, talk like you or even vote like you. Jesus is calling us to be open to the Holy Spirit and dare to follow. In Jesus’ name. Amen.   

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Discipleship: Reflect on your Heart - Proclaim God’s Heart

"This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Jesus has some hard words for the religious leaders who are clucking their tongues against his disciples for not washing their hands before they ate. These leaders weren’t concerned about the health of the disciples. This wasn’t about hygiene. Their concern was for the massive set of rules and regulations that they – and the priests before them – had constructed to help keep their sect “pure” and “set apart.” But somehow… as the regulations increased, the purpose for the rules got lost. As Jesus said, “Your traditions are getting in the way of being faithful.” 

It wasn’t the first time. Jesus is quoting scripture. In the days of Isaiah, there was a similar problem. Isaiah was God’s voice to the people of Israel.  Jesus reminds the religious leaders: “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’" Jesus then tells them,  “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition." 

In this passage, Jesus doesn’t spell out for them what he means by the “commandment of God” – probably because the religious leaders of the day argued all the time about how to fulfill the 600 commandments in the Hebrew Scripture.  But in other places, Jesus is really clear about what is the commandment of God. And he keeps it simple:  The greatest commandment is: “Love God.” The second commandment is: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says that everything else hangs on these two commandments.”

The challenge then and now is how to do that – authentically, faithfully and fully – in your life.  The church word for that is “Discipleship”. It means living your life faithfully, following Jesus and being the person that God made you to be. 

Jesus tells the Pharisees that rather than judge other people, a good first step would be an honest look inside our own hearts. He gives us quite a list! Besides the obvious: theft, murder, and wickedness,  Jesus includes things like envy, slander, pride, folly — but ALL of these things are the result of not following Jesus’ second commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

This is what James talks about in his letter. James is the book of the Bible that Martin Luther didn’t like. He called it “straw” – because it referred to what people should do. In Luther’s day, people were so focused on what they needed to do for their own salvation that Luther needed to remind them again and again: “Jesus is our savior. None of your deeds are not going to get you to heaven.” Jesus saves. Period. That was the message people needed to hear then - and it is still true today.  

But there is a reason that the church leaders did not throw out the book of James.  For, after we are reminded that God’s gift of grace and salvation is FREE and that there is NOTHING that you have to do to earn or deserve it, the question becomes how do you live your life as an authentic follower of Jesus?  What does it mean for your life and for the world and the people around you that you are a Christian? 

James encourages us: “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers.”  In other words,  we have received the greatest gift.  So now… let’s make a difference. 

James gives us some guidance on how we can do that. Our choices to speak or keep silent, our choice to act or not act makes a difference. There is no neutral. 

Today our country is incredibly divided about so many things. But what is most concerning to me is the hate and vitriol that comes out of the mouths of people who claim to be Christian – followers of Jesus. It is really astounding - and incredibly hurtful to both God and the neighbor. 

Recently I had a conversation with a young adult. She said that her family left the church where they had been attending for years, the church where she was confirmed, because the love and grace that was professed on Sunday morning felt really hypocritical when they looked at what some of the same members were saying on Facebook and other social media sites. So her family stopped going. And the second thing that was hurtful was this: no one from the church ever called or wrote or stopped by or ever asked why. 

So what went wrong?  I think a couple of things. First…I don’t know her former church - but I was sorry that this family assumed that the hypocritical voices on Facebook represented the whole church.  I wish that they had voiced another opinion. Maybe they would have found that other people from their church were also interested in promoting care for the neighbor - instead of hurtful comments. But, regardless of the issue, the truth is… that if people who don’t agree with the hatred and vitriol that is spoken don’t speak up against it, then… frankly…it is fair to assume that people agree. Silence speaks loudly. It is interpreted as assent. 

Yesterday, we went down to St.Olaf with our two sons. It was a milestone day for many reasons - but one of the things that really stood out for me was this: the President of the college stood up and said, “Your students will be challenged. They will be encouraged to think about their values — and discuss them in an environment that promotes honest, civil discourse and healthy respect for those with whom they disagree. 

That is what we, as a church, can offer the world: loving the neighbor, the other- not because they agree with us but because Jesus tells us to love the neighbor…. regardless of whether they agree with you or not. This is a gift we can offer the world because BEFORE we speak and act or refrain from speaking or acting.

Jesus asks us to first examine our own heart.  Evaluate our own words and silence,  actions and inactions with this guide: Does it reflect God’s love? Does this action or inaction, or word or silence express love of and for our neighbor?  And then we are called to speak the truth in love. 

This past week we, as a country, laid to rest two very famous and memorable members of the Christian community: John McCain and Aretha Franklin.  At first glance, these two Christians have nothing in common. However, both of them were Christian and both of them operated with respect towards others - and care for those who did not always agree with them. 

Aretha Franklin began as a Gospel singer - her father was a pastor and she began singing at church. Later, she became known as the “Queen of Soul.”  But, when asked what song she would put in a time-capsule as the most important piece of work that she had ever done, she replied, without hesitation: RESPECT. The lyrics of this song remind us that respect, civility, caring for the other - and being listened to and cared for by the other - is essential. Respect. It’s another word for civility. It is about loving and caring for the neighbor - Jesus’ second commandment. 

Likewise, John McCain always insisted on acting with respect and civility towards the other. This was very evident at his memorial service. The people who spoke - both Republicans and Democrats - did not always agree with McCain’s positions - but they loved and respected him for being authentic - and for treating others with respect and care. 

But, you may say, that’s Aretha Franklin and John McCain. God doesn’t make people like that any more. And that’s right. But God isn’t asking you to be Aretha Franklin or John McCain. God made you as God’s child and gave you gifts and talents for this time and this place to be a disciple - a follower of Jesus. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us reflect upon our hearts and then proclaim in word and deed the heart of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane      * Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church  *             September 2, 2018

 

 

 

 

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I Am the Bread of Life

I will be reading a bit of an earlier passage from John prior to what is printed in the bulletin – and I am reading a different translation.  So you may follow in the bulletin if you like – but just know that what I read will be different.

The Gospel according to John, the 6th chapter.

35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 48 I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."  The Judeans then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat? So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you gnaw on the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who gnaw on my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." The Gospel of our Lord.

 Prayer:

  Today’s Gospel is part of a larger story ( which you would have heard if we had not had special Sundays for the last three weeks. )  Jesus had taken his disciples to what was supposed to have been a remote place, but people figured out where they were going – and went by land – and got there first. But in their rush, apparently no one remembered to bring food.  But Jesus knew that the people couldn’t hear his words if their stomachs were empty. Jesus had compassion on the people – and fed them… all 5,000 or more of them. And they had leftovers.

The next day, the crowd found them again. Except this time, they hinted rather strongly, that if Jesus was indeed the messiah – he would do what Moses did – and serve them manna from heaven.  But Jesus doesn’t want them to just come to him when they are hungry for bread to eat. He did not come to be a free bakery.

So this time, instead of giving them what they ask for, Jesus gives them something more.  Jesus tells who he is: "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” This sounds good to the crowd because they are still remembering the sweet taste of the bread that Jesus blessed and fed all five thousand of them the day before and so they say, “Give us this bread!”

But Jesus them he isn’t going to produce manna or barley bread – instead he is giving himself for them and for the sake of the world.  Instead, he says, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”   And that was a bit harder for the religious leaders to swallow.

Many of us, who have grown up in the church, have heard these words all of our lives – so it’s easy for the words to lose their impact, lose their “punch.”  But sometimes, when someone hears these words for the very first time – it causes a reaction.

There was a church that practiced sharing the sacrament with great formality. The linens were starched. The table was immaculate. The pastor would not just say the words of Institution but he would intone them with great solemnity. Every Communion Sunday was done exactly like the time before. Except for one Sunday. This Sunday seemed like a typical communion Sunday except…. there was a little girl who was listening very intently to the pastor. And when he got to the part “eat my body… drink my blood”... she said, very loudly, “EW YUCK!”

 She’s not alone. In first communion classes, children often ask, “Is Jesus wanting us to be cannibals?”  That was the religious leaders response to Jesus too. You may have noticed that I changed the translation. This was in part to help you hear it differently because the word that is typically translated as “eat” is actually closer to the word for “gnaw”. So these religious leaders would have heard Jesus say: “Those who gnaw on my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”  In response, they too were saying, “Ew Yuck.”

If Jesus wanted to get their attention – he certainly did. And people have been gnawing on the question of what Jesus meant ever since.

As Lutherans, we teach that the bread that we serve looks like bread, smells like bread and tastes like bread BUT… and here comes the mystery of it all – it is also the body of Christ. Likewise the wine or grape juice we serve looks, smells and tastes like wine or grape juice but it is also the blood of Christ.

Different denominations and different people understand it differently the point is not to figure out who is “right” but instead to hear what Jesus is doing and to receive the gift that Jesus is giving for you.  

Jesus first supplied the people with bread – and fish – when they were hungry. But then he gave them much more than bread for their body. He gave himself so that they would not just be full – but that they – and we – would have life.

Jesus uses these common staples of food and drink – bread and wine – to embody the gift that he was and is still giving to us.  

Today, when you come to the table, the gift of Jesus will be given, “for you.” It’s personal. Jesus’ body and blood is given for you. But not only for you. Jesus body and blood is also given for your neighbor who is kneeling or standing beside you and for the neighbor who is in Jerusalem and the neighbor who is in Mexico and for all other neighbors everywhere. This gift of Jesus’ body and blood transcends geography. It also transcends time. When we eat this bread and drink this wine; as we gnaw on Christ’s body and blood, we do so with all those on earth – and in heaven.

Jesus invites you – and all the sinners and saints on earth and the saints in heaven - to his table, to abide in him, so that Jesus may live in you. Jesus does this for you…. But not only for you. Jesus does this for the sake of the world.

“You are what you eat.” Ever hear that phrase? Usually, it’s an appeal to get people to eat more vegetables and less fast food. But I’m not talking about your nutritional intake. I’m thinking about what you eat when you come to the Lord’s table. Jesus said, “This is my body, given for you. Take and eat. This is my blood shed for you. Drink it – all  of you. For when you eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood, you become part of the body of Jesus Christ.

Jesus gave himself – his body and blood – for the sake of the world. And the world needs the body of Christ.

If you read the papers, listen to the news or use social media, it is easy to get discouraged. There are many problems in the world – and we hear about them all the time. There are many messages out there that tell us that there are not enough resources to go around, that there is much to fear and that there is little hope.

I’ve heard those messages too. And sometimes I get weary. And sometimes I feel helpless. And sometimes I worry about the changes that I see or fear.

But then I remember… that Jesus had two loaves of bread and five fish and fed 5000 people  – with 12 baskets of leftovers. We see scarcity… but God provides abundance. And then I remember… that Jesus has fed me and all of you and will feed us again with his body and blood in just a few moments…and I think… What am I worried about?

The world is in deep need. The world needs Jesus. But remember..  Jesus has given himself for the sake of the world and we, as the body of Christ, are here. Right now. So come and eat. Come and be fed with the bread of life so that you can go out in grace to love and serve your neighbor, praising God who can do all things with us and through us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Salt & Light - Rev. Mark Nelson

I want to begin by thanking Pastor Pam for the honor of being here once again.  I served here at Faith-Lilac Way a few years ago now. And you know.  I’m not really used to being asked back somewhere.  So this has already been a blessing to me.  Just the invitation.

And to return to a congregation that is doing such lively ministry is a joy.  The senior housing was in the planning stages when I left. The Home is wonderful to see.  And the ministry to the folks there. Your ministry to future leaders of the church.  I have spent a little bit of time with your vicar, Joe Orner.  You’ve whipped him into shape and how impressive he is! And, of course, Pastor Pam.  Her leadership, her heart, her love for God, and for all of you. Every time I’m with her, she gives life and light.  

So I rejoice in the opportunity given to me to preach this morning to help you celebrate your 75th Anniversary.  You’ve also given me an Anniversary Gospel reading which, if anything, reminds us of both who we are as Christians and what it is our world so badly needs.  

Now, many of you have traveled.  And maybe some of you have been to Rome.  There’s the Vatican. There’s the Colosseum.  The Forum. The Temple to Jupiter, the chief god of ancient Rome.  The Pantheon. Then there is the best thing. The gelato stores!  

But there’s even more of these than gelato stores.  When you visit Rome today. On the top of just about every single building, you find crosses.  Everywhere you look there are crosses!  You might say, “That makes sense.  The Pope lives there!  Of course there are crosses everywhere!”

But there is something to think about.  If we could go back in time to about 64 or 65 A.D. Before the Pope was even there. The Emperor Nero has just set fire to the city of Rome to clear some space for his new palace.  He needs a scapegoat. And he decides he’s going to blame it on this new Jewish group from Palestine called “the Christians.”  So he announces that the Christians started the fire and sends his people throughout all the city, rounding up Christians.  He has a thing called, “Nero’s Circus.”  It wasn’t really a circus.  It was basically an arena. And Nero is persecuting the Christians.  Using them as human torches. Letting them be torn apart by dogs. Making sport out of it.

Imagine for just a minute we can go back in time to about 64 or 65 A.D. when all of this is going on.  And you were to tell these persecuted people: “Did you know that one day the city of Rome will be decorated everywhere with crosses?  And these crosses won’t be wooden crosses. There will be crosses on everything from buildings to walls to highways to signs.  They’ll be everywhere! And these crosses will not represent Rome. These crosses won’t even represent crucifixion. These crosses will represent one single crucifixion of one Jewish man.  The one you worship. Jesus Christ.  One day all those temples in the city.  They’ll be tourist attractions.  The day is coming when no one will worship Jupiter.  The day will come when Christians will make pilgrimages to Rome to visit where Nero’s Circus currently is, where your brothers and sisters are being put to death.  But instead of an arena, there will be a cathedral built in memory of Peter, the fisherman, who was the leader of a movement called Christianity.”

Can you imagine what would run through their minds?  They would look at you like you’re a fool!  They would say, “No, Rome is forever!  Jupiter is forever!  Yes we believe in Jesus and we believe he’s the Savior.  But his movement is a small movement. We’re only one of several dozen, and there’s no way in the world that Rome would ever surrender to this movement.”  And yet, within three hundred years.  Within three hundred years.  There are crosses everywhere.  Everywhere.

The question is: how did Rome finally give in and recognize that this group, the Church, was here to stay?  The answer matters!  Because we’re living in a time of leadership crisis.  And we have an opportunity as Christians. We have a message the world desperately needs to hear.  How did Rome finally give in? They gave in because of churches like Faith-Lilac Way.  And people like you. Who understood who they are.   

Who are we?  We spend a lot of time these days talking about.  Working out.  Identity issues.  Family identity.  Gender identity.  Job identity.  Ethnic identity.  Religious identity.  Which means that one of the challenges today is figuring out exactly who we are and then how we’ll spend our lives.

It used to be that identity came as an inheritance from your family.  Who told you clearly who you are and how you will be spending your life.  My great grandparents on one side were 3rd and 4th generation farmers who each inherited the farm from the generation before them.  No one asked the upcoming generation if they wanted to be a farmer.  None of them took vocational aptitude tests that scored high in agriculture.  They didn't even ask themselves if they would be fulfilled as farmers.  I'm not even sure if they knew what that word meant.  It was just their inheritance that they received from home.

But no more.  Now home is something that you leave to decide for yourself who you are and what you will do with your life.  For the last couple of generations. Maybe three. We've been giving our youth pretty much the same advice.  “Be yourself.”  “Follow your own dreams.”  “Do your own thing.” “Chase your own star.”

And the way you do that is by making choices.  We’re so big on choices these days!  Anybody who has parented the last two generations knows that all the advice is about helping Johnny make good choices.  So when Johnny throws a rock through the window. Rather than running out and stopping him, what you’re supposed to do, is bring Johnny in, show him the window, the rock, and say, “Now Johnny, was that a good choice?”  And Johnny, who is a smart little boy, says, “I'm thinking no.”  Right.  Good.

We now tend to see life, and our understanding of identity, as a self-construction.  We choose.  Choose a school.  Choose a major.  Choose a job.  Choose a community.  Choose a church.  And if you don't like your choices, just choose again.  Which means that if you're unhappy, it's simply a matter of your choices.  You can make yourself happy. You can find fulfillment. If you just choose better.  And one of the results of this is that people can spend all sorts of time.  Using up their lives. Constantly making choices. Hoping that they will eventually choose their way into a life that they really like.

Now choosing is not a bad thing.  And inheriting a job.  Is not necessarily a good thing.  I really don’t think I was cut out to be a farmer!  But what has happened is that we now tend to assume that people inherently know who they are.   And what they want to do with their lives. And some sense of having a higher calling.  Is lost.

And that’s what Paul was getting at in his letter the Galatians.  Reminding them. “You are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus…..There is neither Jew nor Greek.  Neither slave or free. Neither male or female.” Paul wasn’t saying nationalities and gender and social status don’t matter.  What he did mean was that we no longer primarily identify ourselves by those things.  They describe us; they do not define us.  Our identity is not something that we inherit from our grandparents.  It's not something we assemble; we self-construct as we currently think.  No. We have a higher calling. That’s where you begin.  Your identity, Paul says, is who you are baptized in Christ.  God has called you.  And when we remember that.  We know how to spend our days and our lives.

Jesus put this identity question in a different way in the Gospel.  He gave us two word pictures to tell us who we are.  “You are the salt of the earth.”  “Salt is a preservative.  Without salt, the earth rots.  By this one thing, all people will know that you’re my follower: how you love, how you treat, how you appreciate, how you care for one another.”  “That’s new and that’s different, and if you’ll allow it to, it’s going to take hold.  You are the salt, the preservers of the earth.”  And then Jesus said: “Not only that, you are the light of the world.”  

Now.  I know there are some who say, “I don’t want to be the light of the world.  I just want to go back and raise my family and go to heaven when I die.”  Jesus said, “No, I don’t know who taught you that.  You don’t have the option to be invisible.  You followers are visible.  You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.”  

Those that translated this in Greek didn’t use the word “built.”  They used a little Greek word that is more like “placed,” because it was intentional.  “A city placed on a hill cannot be hid.”  If you’ve been to that part of the world, you know it’s hilly.  There aren’t many trees. And they built towns on hills, and they built them out of white limestone, and you can see them from miles and miles and miles.  The sun reflected off of them. At night they lit their oil lamps and you can see for miles and miles around. And Jesus said, “Just as a city on a hill cannot be hidden, that’s what you are. You are like a strategically placed city.  That’s why you’re the light of the world.  You have been strategically placed.”

We might say to that: “No!  No! No!  I’m not strategically placed.  I live in Robbinsdale and I don’t really want to be here.  I’m stuck here.  I’m not strategic.”  Or you say, “Light of the world?  No, I’m not. I’m a freshman.  I can’t even find my locker most days.  I have no influence and nobody knows my name.  I’m not strategic.”  Or, “Light of the world.  You have to be kidding.  I’m in this job I don’t want to be in.  I’m not a strategically placed light on a hill.  I’m stuck with a bunch of people I don’t even like.”  And to each of those people Jesus says, “No, if you’re my follower, you’re light!  It may seem random to you, but you are strategically placed.”

When I was a young pastor.  I was always intimidated by making hospital calls.  And it wasn’t that I had a hard time visiting the people who were sick.  No. The intimidation was from all those people in the white coats. The doctors.  The nurses. The technicians. They had these official uniforms. They had their names written right on here.  They had stuff around their neck. They had things in their bags they could use to poke you. Put fluid in you or take it out of you.  It all said: “This is about serious business here.  I’m a doctor. I’m a nurse.”  

And I always felt.  When one of them walked in the room.  That I was kind of in the way. One day when I was sitting there with one of my parishioners in the room.  Not having any of those serious things. I was sitting there with a Bible and a prayer that I had rehearsed in the car on the way over to the hospital.  

A nurse walked in.  Immediately feeling like I was in the way, I just jumped up and headed for the door.  The nurse says, “Where are you going?  Aren’t you this man’s pastor?”  I said, “Yeah.  Yeah. Yup.  I just…. I just want to let you do what you ‘gotta do.”  She says, “I’m gonna do what I gotta do.  You do what you gotta do. You’re the one.”  She said.  “You’re the one.  Who is supposed to bring a little bit of heaven into this room.”  “That’s right.”  “That’s what I do.”  “Why would I trade that in for a stethoscope?”  “That’s what I get to do.”  That’s what you get to do, too.  You are the light of the world. You have the power of the God’s Spirit to bring a little bit of heaven to your part of God’s world.  

We have a great, life-changing.  Eternally true. Story to live and to tell.  A story about a God who is dying to love us. Love everybody.  And the world needs to hear it. I think that’s why there is so much interest in Mr. Rogers again.  Mr. Rogers was a Presbyterian pastor. Who accepted all comers who came on his show. He met everybody with grace and in love and respect.  It didn't matter who you were. He told everyone they were special. It didn't matter who you were watching that TV screen. It was you he liked.  And we see that now and we say, “Wow, that's amazing!  We want that again.”  Mr. Rogers should be way retro now.  Those cardigan sweaters. Now everybody wants him.!  

How did Rome finally give in and realize that this group the Church was here to stay?  It was because thousands of individual Christians lived a bit like Mr. Rogers.  In local Christian gatherings. Witnessed to the risen Christ by sharing their wealth.  Feeding widows and orphans. Caring for the sick and the children.  Gathering for meals and teaching. There's nothing heroic here. Just the simple offering of gifts simply for the benefit of one another and for those outside the community.  And yet in these very simple acts, God moved with remarkable power. Miracles were performed. The sick were healed and the dead were raised. And life was transformed. This was so powerful that it brought the swift attention of Rome.  People suffered. But like a steady dripping water on a rock, the Christians persevered and persisted. It wasn't easy. But their perseverance paid off.

And today.  2000 years later.  We’re still here! Every time you pick up a map and see names of cities like, St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Francis, St. Bonifacius.  Jesus’ influence is so enduring that we name our children after his friends—Paul, Peter, Mary, and John. And we name our dogs after the rulers of his day; like Brutus and Caesar and Nero.  

They’re all gone and we’re still here.  Living. Proclaiming. That God has prepared a future not just for us but all Creation.  Creation will be made new by the power of God in the life and death of Jesus.  As much as it may seem from the news that the world is in pain and struggles and evil runs freely.  In fact, the world is in a waiting room, waiting to be fully redeemed in Christ.  Even in difficult times, God is leading us somewhere better even when we can’t see it now.  

Meanwhile, there is much to be done.  So many needs to be met. So many opportunities to be seized.  There is enough for everybody here, and the work of this church will never be done until Jesus comes.  That is good news! For not only does it mean that we will always have something to do, but we will always have something worth the doing.  

So, Faith-Lilac Way.  Happy 75th Anniversary!  And let us pray that we take on the work he has given us and make it our own, and let us carry on bravely, gloriously, full of joy.  For Jesus has not left you a grim inheritance, he has left you a new opportunity, a fresh adventure, a promising future. You. You.  Are His salt and light in the world.  Jesus is not retreating, he is leading us, and forward we go into that great day that is His.  For that we all give thanks to God.

Amen.

 

Sermon by Reverend Mark Nelson

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