Doubting Thomas - Peace


Doubting Thomas - Peace

Doubting Thomas – Peace

John 20:19-31

Have you ever done or said something you regretted? Have you laid awake at night, thinking what you might have said instead, going over and over the scene in your head?  I wonder if Thomas felt that way, under the scrutiny of the other disciples, after doubting their word about having seen Jesus.

Wouldn’t we all, after denying their story initially, perhaps in the hours and days to come, question ourselves?  We don’t know what was happening among the disciples in the week following Jesus’ appearance that Easter evening. Were they bickering, or maybe sitting in sullen and fearful silence?

We can only guess, but there’s more going on than the words printed in this periscope. So let’s unpack it…..

Holed up in a locked house, we find the disciples, hiding, afraid for their LIVES.  Just that morning, they’d heard from Mary Magdalene that Jesus had appeared to her and spoken to her. The disciples were likely perplexed, and uncertain of what steps to take, if any.  They believed that Jesus, who they thought was the Savior of the world, was dead. How did their journey with Jesus come to this? They were so sure he was the one!  Now they didn’t know what to do or think.

In the midst of this tension and anxiety – imagine the thickness of emotion in that room –  Jesus shows up among them and says, ”Peace be with you.”  But it’s not clear whether the disciples recognize Jesus until after they’ve seen his wounds. Then they rejoice! This person who is only noticed when he speaks, is indeed the Risen Christ!

Jesus says again, “Peace be with you.” He tells the disciples that he sends THEM as he has been sent by the Father, and breathes the HOLY SPIRIT onto them, sharing God’s POWER with them. 

But it doesn’t appear that any of them have moved.  Jesus returns a week later to the same house – the disciples still there, and Jesus says again, “Peace be with you.” Which really means, “The peace of Christ is here now……..the peace of Christ is here, now!”

And Thomas is given what he requested, to see and touch the injured flesh of Jesus.

On doing so, Thomas’ proclamation, “My Lord and my God!” is the highest affirmation of Jesus’ identity in John’s gospel, making clear that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God….

I think Thomas has gotten a bit of a bad rap. The writer points out that he is called “the twin,” but he is remembered throughout history as “Doubting Thomas.”

He didn’t ask for anything the other disciples hadn’t already received. They all SAW that it was Jesus before rejoicing his return to the living.  And Jesus didn’t express any consternation over the disciples need to experience his presence.

Realistically speaking to the human condition, to doubt isn’t an either/or.  Doubt or believe. No. To doubt is to question, to wonder, to feel uncertain or to lack conviction. Really, all the disciples were doubting. Thomas was simply bold enough to say so.

The people closest to Jesus doubted! And sometimes, so do we.

But Jesus’ response to their uncertainty – our uncertainty – was to provide what was needed to believe, to strengthen their faith, and demonstrate the permanence of what Jesus did for all humanity on the cross.  Doubt will not separate us from God’s love. Nothing will separate us from God.

So doubt is not an absolute negative. Doubt might bring us to question out loud, and questions generate conversation, and talking about what we believe, or don’t believe, can bring clarity and understanding.

When we are open about what we believe, we build Christian community. We grow together, we strengthen or reform our beliefs, we plant seeds of faith in the curious or misinformed. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

I call it theological conversation.  To wonder about God and the mysteries surrounding Jesus – how does God act? Where is God? How does Jesus show up in a locked room? What does God want from us or FOR us?

These are the questions of little children and grown-ups, of new Christians and biblical scholars. Theology is the study of God, so when we think about God, when we wonder about God with each other, we practice theology. We are all theologians.

From John’s gospel we see that God comes to us no matter how big, or tiny, our faith. Even at our weakest, when we might feel the furthest away from God…God is with us. And we have our own stories to share within God’s story.

When my husband, KC, had what he now calls his “unpleasantness,” which was a rupture in his ascending aorta, Medical staff told me it was a good thing he made it to the hospital, and that if he made it to surgery, he had a better chance of surviving. They were telling me there was a high chance he wouldn’t live through the hours ahead!

But I wasn’t fully hearing them. I felt as though my feet weren’t really touching the floor, as if I was being held up, somehow. I heard their words and I remembered, but I felt as though I might be in a cocoon – everything just slipping by me – almost dream-like. 

On some level I was terrified of losing my husband, but on another deeper level, I felt an extreme peace that told me, no matter what happened, God was with both KC and me, and whether he survived or went on to a new kind of living, everything would be OK. I remember telling my pastor at the time, the only words that didn’t feel like a jumbled mess, “God is here.”

What I experienced, I believe, was the PEACE of Christ, extended through everyone around me. The ambulance driver who waited for me at an entrance that was a shortcut to KC in the ER.

The gentle explanations of the doctors, my family who were suddenly there to support us, and stayed through the evening. My nephew who drove to bring my son home from school, which freed me from that worry. And the many friends who texted me they were praying.

God comes to us in ways we’re able to comprehend in that time and situation. God meets us where we are and guides us through fear, or sorrow, and into joy, into new beginnings. 

We see this in the story of Thomas, whose belief came to fruition by the revelation of Jesus.

God revealed God’s self to Thomas and the other disciples in the flesh of Jesus, and to us through the telling of Jesus’ story. In Christian community God reveals God’s self to us through one another.

We have NOT seen and yet have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing may have life in his name.

Not only life as in from birth to death, the lives the disciples feared for. That life in Greek is psyche or bios, the life span of every living creature, in body and mind.  Life that comes from believing is a different word in the Greek – zoe – which is life given to those who believe, to those born of God. Zoe, is life that transforms us from just plain life to living in the abundance and eternity of God.

Over the course of our earthly lives, faith is not static, and humans may come to believe at any age. But God extends to us the peace of Jesus Christ, which surpasses understanding, and frees our hearts and minds to live into God’s abundant eternal life. Peace be with you.  Amen.

Sermon, Easter 3, May 5, 2019  Deacon Kirsten Kessel


Jesus is the Best Gift for the Whole World


Jesus is the Best Gift for the Whole World

Jesus is the Best Gift for the Whole World

The Gospel according to Luke, the 24th chapter:

C: Glory to you O Lord…

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. The Gospel of the Lord.

C: Praise to You O Christ

Jesus is the Best Gift!

P: Let the people shout Alleluia! C: Alleluia!

P: Christ is Risen! C: Christ is Risen Indeed!

Today we joyfully proclaim that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. We shout our Alleluias and sing praises to the Lord that Jesus the Christ, the anointed one, our Messiah and Savior has defeated the power of death and given us the gift of resurrection.

But the first Easter morning didn’t start out that way. The women were grieving as they made their way to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body with spices. But instead, they saw two men in dazzling clothes –– angels – and they were terrified. Wouldn’t you be?

It wasn’t until the angels reminded them of Jesus’ words, “the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” that they believed what they thought – up until that moment – was impossible. It was the third day – and Jesus was raised from the dead.

But when they told this good and amazing news to the disciples and the others, they laughed and called it an “idle tale” – and ridiculed the women.

Except Peter… Maybe something triggered his memory…. But he didn’t laugh. He took off running and then… when he saw that the tomb was empty…he went out to proclaim the good news!

No. That’s not what he did. He went home. Amazed. But saying nothing. The end.

Except… it’s not the end. Because, if this was the end of the story, we would not be celebrating today. But, thanks be to God, the message doesn’t end there. Instead… Jesus appeared to the disciples and then to the disheartened followers walking the road to Emmaus. He reminded them of his words – and the words of scripture. And they believed. And then the Holy Spirit came and empowered the disciples and the followers of Jesus throughout the years so that today…even a child can proclaim that the BEST Gift is Jesus.

The best gift is Jesus, because Jesus, raised from the dead, has defeated the power of death and has given us the promise of eternal life with Him. So, brothers and sisters in Christ, let the people praise God and shout Alleluia!


P: Christ is Risen!

C: Christ is Risen indeed!

The disciples had been traveling with Jesus for three years. They had heard him teach that he would be rejected and die and rise again. But they had to be reminded of Jesus’ words before they could open their eyes to see the gift that God has given to us– and so do we.

A few weeks ago, Pastor Kate from the University of Minnesota Lutheran Campus Ministry spoke at a Conference meeting. She said that when students come to college, they are challenged with lots of competing values and ideas. Pastor Kate challenged us to help our young adults develop and be able to articulate an “elevator speech” – a statement short enough to clarify, in just a few minutes, what they mean when they say “I am a Christian.”

I was intrigued by Pastor Kate’s challenge for young adults, but after a conversation with our adult education class, I realized that it wasn’t just young adults that needed to have a faith “elevator speech.” We all do. We are at a time in history in which it is easy to assume that everyone knows the story of Jesus; everyone knows what a Christian is. But… unfortunately… not everyone knows the Jesus that we know. The Jesus that I know – and I hope you know -- is not coming with fire and brimstone to judge the world in anger. The Jesus that I know has already come and will come again to bring joy and the promise of resurrection and new life to all people.

But it is challenging – even for me - when asked, on the spot – in an elevator or elsewhere – why and what you believe. So… I thought, long and hard, about what would be an elevator speech about what it means to be a Christian.

We – you and I ___ are beloved Children of God who loves the whole world, and each person in it. And because of God’s love – not because of anything we have done or said - God forgives us, and makes us whole. That’s Grace. And, out of God’s great love, God gave us the best gift, Jesus Christ, to be the savior of the WHOLE WORLD. This is Good News – and God calls us to share it so that everyone may joyfully experience God’s abundant love.

This is what we can share about what it means to be a Christian. But if it’s a really short elevator, you can make it just one sentence: God loves you, forgives you and calls you to live your life as a response to Jesus’ love for you and for the whole world.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God has given us, you and me, the best gift – Jesus, risen from the dead who forgives us, restores us and makes us whole. That is good news, Good News that is too good not to share so that the whole world may be filled with joy.

P: So Let the people praise God and shout Alleluia!


P: Christ is Risen! C: Christ is Risen indeed!


Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

Easter Sunday April 21, 2019


"It Is Finished"


"It Is Finished"

“It Is Finished”

What did the people at the foot of the cross hear when Jesus gasped these last words?

To Pilate, the Roman Soldiers, and the Religious Leaders, “It is Finished” perhaps is heard with a smirk of gladness and probably a sigh of relief. This man threatened their power, tradition and authority, but now, finally, this blaspheming-rabble-rousing rabbi, hangs helplessly on a cross. He’s Done. Dead. Finished-off. Not their problem anymore. Finally they can get back to business as usual.

To Jesus’s mother, standing at the foot of the cross, watching her son--bleeding, tortured, gasping for air hearing her son--her own flesh and blood—crying out “it is finished” The one who birthed Jesus into the world, now stands helplessly at the foot of the cross as he exits the world.

His mother, the one who first heard the cries and coos of her baby boy so many years ago in that tiny barn in Bethlehem, now hears her boy cry in agony on the cross.

She, who used to be able comfort her son with the milk from her breast, now has nothing to offer him but her tears of helplessness. She cannot wrap him up in her arms and make the pain of the world disappear. Her baby boy, the child that she had nurtured… delighted in… her son…. It is finished.

For his disciples--the women and the 12 that have accompanied Jesus on his ministry, “it is finished” is the end of a dream. They had left everything, their whole lives to follow this man. Now what are they going to do? Hadn’t he just promised that he’d always be with him? Why isn’t he fixing this? They thought he was going to do something really great. But as they watch their teacher, their friend that they love hanging on the cross, all their hopes are shattered.

How could it finish like this?

“It is Finished!” What about us? How can we hear these words?

Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. That's significant because the perfect tense speaks of an action which has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present. It's different from the past tense which looks back to an event and says, "This happened." The perfect tense adds the idea that "This happened and it is still in effect today."

Te-tell-es-tie” It is finished; accomplishes the proclamation by John the Baptist who at the beginning of John’s gospel points his finger at Jesus and says “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” “it is finished” is the fulfillment of Christ’s words in John 3:16—for God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life.

“It is finished” is not a weak whisper uttered in defeat, but it is a victorious proclamation of the fulfillment of God’s love for you.

On the cross, God has now finished the work that God began with us so long ago.

Because we could not get up to God, God climbed down to us. All the way down to a manger in Bethlehem, so that he could die on a cross at Golgotha. It is here on the cross, here in the bloody, torturous crucifixion, here in Christ’s death that you can know just how much God loves you. Christ has freed you from the clenching chokehold of sin and death—the powers that pull you away from God.

With his last breath, Christ has at last accomplished what God began us so long ago—to be in a full, loving, and life-giving relationship with you, and with me. It is finished.

When life becomes too hectic, when you lie awake in your bed at night going over to-do lists in your head, when the voice of the Evil One sneakily seeps into your ear and tells you that you are a failure, a phony, not good enough—when this happens and you begin to doubt God’s love for you, begin to doubt that God’s promise of forgiveness and love couldn’t possibly be referring to you… surely I must be do something, become something or someone that is worthy of God’s love—when these ___ of anxiety permeate your brain, I need you to remember the last words of Your Lord as he hung on the cross.

Listen to your Savior proclaiming this promise of God’s completed work on your behalf. “It Is Finished”-- the culminating act God’s love now complete. It’s all done. And God has done this all for you.

It is finished. Amen.

Thank you Lord that by your wounds we are healed. Thank you that because of your huge sacrifice we can live free. Thank you that sin and death have been conquered, and that your Power is everlasting.

Thank you that we can say with great hope, “It is finished…” For we know what’s still to come. And death has lost its sting. We praise you for you are making all things new.

Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. That's significant because the perfect tense speaks of an action which has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present. It's different from the past tense which looks back to an event and says, "This happened." The perfect tense adds the idea that "This happened and it is still in effect today."

Rebecca Holland


Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church


The Gift of the Lord’s Supper


The Gift of the Lord’s Supper

The Gift of the Lord’s Supper

On the night in which he was betrayed Jesus shares a meal with his disciples and friends knowing full well that in just a short time they would all fail him. In a string of events on one single night, these people that Jesus loved; passed out in the garden when Jesus told them to stay awake, handed him over to be executed by the authorities in exchange for some measly silver, they denied knowing him in during his trial, and they abandoned him as he hung on the cross to die.

Jesus loved these people! He chose them, called them by name to follow him. These are the people that Jesus invited to share his last meal with. Betrayers. Deniers. Abandoners. Quite the motley crew of sinners, his disciples are. But sinners are exactly the type of people that this communion is for. Jesus’ whole reason to be born into flesh, to become fully human was so that he could shed his own blood and die on the cross, for the sake of sinners—for sinners like his disciples, for sinners like you and me.

Here Jesus speaks his last will and testament before his imminent death. You see, this Last Supper, was not really the last of anything, but the beginning of a new covenant, a pact. In these words Jesus speaks a command and a promise not just to his disciples, but to all of God’s beloved who are trapped in bondage to the captivating powers of sin, death, and the devil. This meal and these words of command and promise are spoken for you, a sinner—and also a beloved child of God.

First, we hear the commands of Christ: “Do this,” Jesus says. “Eat,” “Drink,” and “do this in remembrance of me.” In just a few minutes we’ll hear Pastor Pam speak these same words before Holy Communion and we’ll hear why Jesus commands us to “eat, drink, do this.”—for the forgiveness of sins. For the forgiveness of your sin. Like a physician prescribing life-saving medicine only to those who are truly sick, Jesus prescribes this sacrament only to those in need of forgiveness. I don’t know about you, but my prideful and rebellious self doesn’t want forgiveness because that would mean that I have something that I need to be forgiven for. Only sinners are in need of forgiveness. This sacrament exposes the disease of sin within you and your desperate need for a cure.

This is a message that can be a hard pill to swallow, so Jesus combines the command with a promise. Christ first promises the gift of his presence—“this is my body; this is my blood”—Christ has promised to be truly and fully present when we come to the altar. He is present in and with the bread and wine not by some magic trick, but because this is where Christ has promised to be found. It is the combination of Jesus’ words together with the physical, tactile bread and wine that we are assured of his true presence. Christ has promised to show-up, that is the first part of his promise.

The second part is even more astounding. Not only has Christ promised to be present in the bread and the wine, so as to be some sort of admired spectacle of remembrance, but he has promised his true flesh and true blood to be broken, given, and shed for you. It is a promise that God will remain faithful to you, even when your faith is depleted. This is not just an abstract theological idea, but an actual, individual promise that Christ has made with you. This is the miraculous gift of communion! Christ has promised all these things for you, his beloved little renegade, and asks nothing of you in return.

We come to the table with nothing to offer but our ravenous hunger for forgiveness. And so Christ feeds us with his body and blood, filling our bellies to the brim with the comfort foods of forgiveness and faith. Jesus loves you so much that it is not enough for him to merely be near you, but within you—as a hunk of bread and a gulp of wine, he desires to feed you his own body and blood so that you may be filled immediately, and again and again, with his with his sustenance.

On the night in which he was betrayed, Christ gave us the life-sustaining gift of Holy Communion. Come now to the table, you who are hungry for you shall be filled with the nourishment of the Lord. Thanks be to God for this truly amazing gift. Amen.

“There are so many hindrances and temptations of the devil and the world that we often grow weary and faint, at times even stumble. The Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may refresh and strengthen itself and not weaken in the struggle but grow continually stronger.”

A reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 11:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord

Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

The Word of the Lord.

[1] Martin Luther, Large Catechism, “On the Lord’s Supper,” Line 24.

Rebecca Holland

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

Maundy Thursday Service


Jesus’ Second Gift: A New Commandment: Love One Another

Tonight is “Maundy Thursday.” “Maundy” is Latin for Mandatum, which is translated “Commandment”. Jesus gives a new commandment: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” But “Love one another” doesn’t sound new. And it’s not. Jesus adapts Deuteronomy 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” The commandment or admonition to love one another has been around for a long time and shows up in many cultures, faiths and contexts.

So what makes it “new?” It’s the second part… “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. ” Jesus has gathered his disciples around him to celebrate the Passover feat. He knows what’s coming and yet… look what he does. He knows that Judas will betray him – and yet… Jesus feeds him. Jesus knows that Peter will deny him – and yet… he washes Peter’s feet. He knows that not one of the disciples will stay by his side – and yet he breaks bread with them and washes their feet – all of them, even the feet of his betrayer, Judas.

Do you see what Jesus is doing? He’s living out the commandment that he is giving them. Why? He loves them and so he serves them and provides an example for us.

This is what Jesus asks us to do for one another. Remember the old camp song, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love?” Jesus wants us to love one another, serve and care for others – not just those who care for you… but all the people we meet – even those that are not so nice, even those that can’t “pay you back”.

This is why we go on service mission trips with the youth. We practice being intentional in our serving and in our giving of our time, our talents and our selves with one another and with the strangers we meet. Mission trips are a great way of loving and serving the neighbor -- perhaps we all need to go!

But… we really don’t need to go somewhere else to do this. Loving one another for the disciples started with the people who were around the table – and then it spread from there. And that’s where it starts for us too… with the people who live with you, work with you, go to school with you, worship with you and live in the community with you.

This is what Jesus calls us to do – and I know that you do it! But sometimes we don’t think about it. So right now, I’d like you to take just a moment to think of a time within the last week in which you have shown someone – anyone – love or kindness. Is there a time you have served someone else? It doesn’t have to be someone you know… Maybe you let a mom with a big grocery cart and a screaming kid in line ahead of you? Maybe you wrote a note to someone. Maybe you delivered a meal. It doesn’t have to be something big – maybe you smiled at a person having a bad day. Take just a moment… and if you can’t think of anything… well… the week isn’t over yet, you can plan to show love to someone yet today. This is what we do and can do in our everyday lives: we love one another – and every time that we do, we are proclaiming the love of Jesus Christ through our words and deeds. People will indeed: “know you are Christians by your love.”

And now… the flip side. I’d like to invite you to remember a time that you haven’t loved your neighbor/ friend/ family as Jesus has loved you. If you are like me, those come to mind far too quickly. Again, take a moment to think of a time you haven’t loved someone as Jesus loves you. The truth is that all of us fail sometimes to love as Jesus loves us. There are times that we do not reflect God’s love to our neighbor - this is why we all need forgiveness.

Thanks be to God that we have a God of not only second chances but a God who doesn’t keep track but instead forgives us again and again and again. And not only that, but Jesus loves us so much that he was willing to die for us – for you… for me. That’s sacrificial love.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus shows his love for us through service and by dying to give us new life. Each day Jesus invites you and me to live into this new life by loving others as He loves us and sends the Holy Spirit to help us. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

Maundy Thursday Service


Jesus’ Third Gift: Himself

Finally, we come to the garden of Gethsemane, the place of betrayal. In the other Gospels, this is a place of prayer and building resolve. But in John’s telling of the story, Jesus is ready. This is his mission. He knows what’s going to happen and steps forward to ask them, “Whom are you looking for?” When they reply, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus replies with the Greek form of the Divine name, “I AM.” In translating, we add the “he” to make sense grammatically, so we read: “I AM he.” But Jesus says: I AM.

The Romans had come with weapons and numbers – a whole detachment of soldiers – that’s 480 soldiers -- plus police from the chief priests and Pharisees. Yet when they heard the name, I AM, they stepped back and fell to the ground.

Remember back to Moses and the burning bush? Moses had the audacity to ask God, “What is your name? Whom shall I say sent me?” And the Lord God replied, “I AM who I AM.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses seven I AM metaphors to help us understand who He is, saying: I AM the Bread of Life; I AM the Light Of The World; The Gate; The Good Shepherd; The Vine. I AM the Resurrection and the Life; The Way, The Truth and The Life. And now, three times, he declares, I AM.

Jesus is ready and willing. When Peter tries to defend him, Jesus tells him to put his sword away and asks, “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

I am reminded of the Philippians hymn we read on Sunday. Jesus empties himself, humbles himself and becomes obedient to the point of death – even death on the cross.

Jesus and his disciples had been celebrating the anniversary of the first Passover night. God saved the first born son of the Hebrew people by having the angel of death “pass over’ all the doors marked with the blood of a lamb. They were spared. But on this Passover night Jesus’ final gift was to not have the Angel of death pass over him, but, out of love, to empty himself, humble himself and to give his life for us. He became the Lamb of God. Amen.

Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

Maundy Thursday Service



The Stubbornness and Courage of a Donkey


The Stubbornness and Courage of a Donkey

The Stubbornness and Courage of a Donkey

Minneapolis hosted the Final Four last weekend… and I have it on pretty good authority that the city did a lot of work to get ready for it – not quite as much as we did for the Super Bowl – but when big events happen in town, everyone from the mayor to the owners of food trucks gets ready.

The same thing was true in Jerusalem. Passover was a big deal and attracted large crowds of people – pilgrims and revolutionaries and revolutionary-minded pilgrims. But it also attracted those whose goal was to keep the peace - Pax Romana – a peace gained by and enforced by power and might.

Two scholars, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, propose that while Jesus was entering Jerusalem on a donkey from the Mount of Olives, another procession was occurring from a gate on the opposite side of town.

One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down from the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. A rabbi, Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers were pilgrims going to the temple.

On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor… entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry, foot soldiers, with their leather armor, helmets, weapons, and banners. Imagine the sounds of marching feet, creaking leather, clinking bridles, and the beating of drums. 1It reeked of power and might. Just as it was supposed to do.

What a contrast! Two processions – two different messages:

Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire.”

And yet… there was more to Jesus’ entry than a simple renunciation of the power of the empire.

You see, the pilgrims knew their history and the prophecies of scripture. To assure the transfer of power to Solomon, as he had promised Bathsheba, David had Solomon anointed by a priest and then had him ride into Jerusalem on his own donkey. It became a tradition. The prophet Zechariah said, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9

The people of Israel were long overdue for the prophesied messiah, the new awaited king, to come and restore them. And so…when the disciples – and all of the pilgrims saw Jesus, this rabbi who spoke of God’s kingdom with authority, healed the blind and raised the dead riding on a donkey into Jerusalem… how could they help but shout with joy that the time had come!

This image was not lost on the Pharisees – but they saw it as “dangerous.” It was dangerous because the Pharisees knew that if the Romans smelled even a whiff of revolution or heard the words “New King” or “Messiah,” they would destroy anything and everything that threatened the “Pax Romana” - their power. And that included the privileged place of the Pharisees and maybe even the temple itself.

There are times that call for courage. There is the instinctual courage that causes a young father to jump in front of a car to grab his toddler from its’ path. And then there is the kind of courage that sees danger coming, has plenty of time to choose a safer path, and yet chooses to remain faithful and endure the challenge - despite the fear … for the sake of the greater good. 2

Jesus demonstrates this second kind of courage. He tells the Pharisees that if his disciples were silent, “even the stones would shout out.” Rather than shushing his disciples and choosing a safer path, Jesus continues his journey, humbling himself and becoming obedient even to the point of death – death on a cross.”

Courage is easier to admire from afar.

During WWII in Nazi-occupied France, Pastor Andre Trocme gathered his congregation together in the small mountain village of Le Chambon. It was Christmas eve. It should have been a joyful time and yet his people were full of fear. You see, they had formed an underground network for saving refugees, many of them Jewish children. But they didn’t even dare talk with one another because none of them knew which of their neighbors might betray them to the German occupiers. So the pastor, wanting to encourage his people to continue to do what was right, gathered his people together and told them stories -- about Jesus’ life and the courage of a donkey. 3

Yes, of a donkey. Donkeys show up quite a bit in the Gospels and in our tradition. There is the donkey we imagine who carried a very pregnant Mary to Bethlehem, and Mary and Jesus to Egypt and there is a donkey in the story of the Good Samaritan. The donkey in our Gospel today is a young colt – never ridden before. In the pastor’s retelling of the stories, the master of the donkey is often afraid - afraid to let Mary and Joseph into the inn, afraid to let his donkey go to Egypt, afraid to pick up an unknown man by the side of the road. But the donkey, exhibiting the traits of contradiction, otherwise known as stubbornness, and courage, is not afraid. In each of the stories, against the “better judgment” of her “owner,” the donkey does the right thing. Mary gets to a stable to give birth and the donkey stays to keep it warm. The donkey takes the best path to Egypt and so protects Mary and Joseph. And it is the donkey, in the pastor’s retelling of the Good Samaritan story, that makes the Good Samaritan stop and care for the injured man by the side of the road.

In the pastor’s retelling of today’s story, the owner has finally gotten wise and tells the disciples that his donkey is the most stubborn donkey imaginable but if the donkey follows them, it will be ok because the donkey is always right! Sure enough, the donkey follows them and leads her colt to Jesus. The donkey was used to show courage – despite the circumstances.

The people of this mountain village were being called: by their pastor, by their conscience and by faith to have courage to do the right thing, to care for and support the Jewish refugees from the power of the Empire of the day. The example of stubborn courage displayed by the donkey in the pastor’s stories helped them to put aside their fears and embrace their faith and their mission with courage.

Ordinary people, like us, are called by God to not be afraid to follow but instead to be of good courage. There are plenty of challenges in our world, plenty of reasons to be afraid. But brothers and sisters in Christ, “Be of good courage.” We can dare to do the right thing, to live out our faith with courage – despite the challenges in our lives and in our world. For Jesus has already gone before us and has prepared the way. The journey is not always easy. But not only is the way of Jesus better than the way of the empire but Jesus loves us so much that he gives us the faith and the courage to follow. Thanks be to God. Amen.

1 The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem, by Borg and Crossan, p. 3 by Janet Hunt in

2 William Barclay as quoted by David Lose

3 Easter Stories: Classic Tales for the Holy Season


John 12:1-8


John 12:1-8

John 12:1-8

The gospel lesson today is full of parallels, contrasts, and foreshadowing, as well as lavish devotion and discipleship.

You might have picked up on the recently revivified Lazarus at the table with Jesus. We know that Jesus loved Lazarus, and wept at his passing before recalling Lazarus from his tomb. Imagine how Lazarus must have felt toward Jesus. We can guess that he listened to Jesus’ every word as he sat in adoration of his Lord and friend.

Did you wonder if the stench of death lingered on Lazarus after 4 days in a tomb? That unpleasant odor in contrast with the sweet smell of Nard that permeated the house following Mary’s anointing of Jesus? Certainly, the foreshadowing of Jesus’ burial is clear, as Jesus himself names it.

Mary loved her brother, Lazarus, and had chastised Jesus for not arriving sooner to prevent his death. We can guess that Mary had prepared Lazarus for burial, however probably not with the extravagant perfume.

Nard, or Spikenard, was produced from the roots of the plant which grew in the high areas of the Himalayas and was said to grow at the gates of the Garden of Eden. When used for anointing, the costly Nard was reserved for people of the highest esteem – Kings, for example. Mary’s use of Nard to anoint Jesus signifies Jesus is King.

And Martha, true to her vocational calling, was actively serving. No complaints this time. Did she learn from Jesus that each of us has a role to play in the Kingdom of God? And that none is more important than another, because everyone is necessary to the community’s functioning and well-being?

Martha was modeling true discipleship – that of diakonia, or unconditional service. She used her aptitude to make sure everyone had what they needed. A perfect hostess, providing her best for all of her guests.

Now contrast Martha with Judas Iscariot, whose thievery and false concern for the poor was the example of FAUX discipleship – he played the part outwardly, but in his heart, love and compassion were lacking. Judas was not trustworthy. And Jesus, God made flesh, was fully cognizant of Judas’s fabricated consideration for others, yet included him in his inner circle. An example of loving one’s enemy?

Jesus was aware of the events to come, Mary’s anointing of him taking place less than one week from his regal entry into Jerusalem, followed by Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ arrest, torture, and finally, crucifixion. Being fully human, how must he have felt, knowing what he was about to face?

We read the external Jesus, and it appears he was holding himself together, remarkably, considering. But we aren’t given a glimpse into his mind-set or emotions. We don’t often think of Jesus in terms of needing anything. He was healing people, and feeding thousands. What could Jesus need from mere humans?

And then there’s Mary. Like Martha, Mary modeled true discipleship through her actions toward Jesus. Simply washing his feet was common courtesy, the expected hospitality offered to visitors, usually by slaves or women. Travelers, especially, whose feet would be coated in dust and grime, were topped off with oil that served as protection from further dirt, as well as soothing relief for sun baked feet.

But that’s where Mary’s behavior diverged from the norm. Mary’s was an act of abundant love and devotion. It was impractical, extravagant, and demonstrated the depth of her relationship with Jesus, as well as unity and belief in his mission.

Perhaps offensive, but definitely surprising, a woman’s hair was considered her glory, so by using her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet, Mary exalted Jesus, and we can assume his worn feet were calmed by the silky touch of her hair. Imagine how those observing felt as they witnessed Mary’s outpouring of love.

In purchasing the Nard, Mary spent the equivalent of one year’s wages. Perhaps every penny she had. But this was Mary’s final encounter with Jesus, who she recognized as the Messiah. Did she perhaps also comprehend the human need of Jesus?

On the road ahead, he would face condemnation, ridicule, excruciating pain, and abandonment. Imagine the tension and weariness building in Jesus as his hour approached. Mary, though, poured out on him not only the expensive Nard, but also its soothing properties, which is known to reduce feelings of stress, to allow muscles to relax, and help a person to feel settled.

Jesus needed the relief Mary provided him. He needed to receive her agape love, the highest form of love between God and human beings. Mary reciprocated Jesus’ love for all humanity, and her love for Jesus, given without restraint, provided peace and strength as his hour drew near.

Reciprocation in relationships is necessary for vibrancy – for energy and vitality and growth. Mary is a model for us. How might we emulate her?

Be grounded in the Word – Dwelling in Scripture is a reciprocal process, so when you read scripture, or hear God’s word preached, expect to encounter God. Anticipate God’s word just for you. It may be a word of affirmation, or guidance, or comfort. It will always be a word of love.

Prayer is reciprocal as well. It is time spent in conversation with God. But Humans have a tendency to focus on human needs. We can get stuck in the “help me” rut. So prayer doesn’t have to be about “asking.” We can sit with God in silence, emptying our minds of our everyday clutter, and just tune in to God’s will for us. Bask in God’s love and let your love for God go forth from your being. Let’s try it for one minute…...

Receive the sacraments as often as you’re able. Baptism is once and forever, But in receiving Holy Communion, God comes to us with abundant love and forgiveness. When you approach the altar, imagine God running out to wrap you in God’s arms – think of the Prodigal son’s father rushing to meet his returning son with complete abandon. Not chastising, but with unconditional love.

And from receiving God’s un-bounding love and forgiveness, we’re sent back into the world to love our neighbors as ourselves. CS Lewis wrote, “Next to the blessed sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” Keep those words in mind as you encounter strangers where you work, or live, or play. You will Share God’s love, and receive it as well. Amen.

April 7, 2019

Deacon Kirsten Kessel


An Abundant Life


An Abundant Life

An Abundant Life

HO!  The prophet Isaiah is really trying to get our attention.  Lacking a microphone… he cries out “HO!” He’s got a message, an invitation to an abundant life. This message was first spoken to the exiles in Babylon. They were living in tough times, worried that they could not pay their bills and feed their children. They didn’t know if their God was with them or against them. They weren’t sure what kind of a future they had.

But into this uncertainty, fear and anxiety, the prophet speaks  - sometimes as God and sometimes as the Lord’s prophet. He speaks a word of hope, a word of invitation and a word of promise. He spoke this word first to the Babylonian exiles – and now God speaks this word to you .

“HO! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!”

Have you ever been thirsty?  I have. Hiking in a mountain valley and discovering all the riverbeds on the map were dry, I started to get thirsty. We weren’t really in any danger but I felt myself getting thirsty just knowing that I couldn’t refill my water bottle. At that moment, thoughts of scarcity filled my mind.

Scarcity…We often live with this mindset of scarcity. Too often, we become obsessed with questions of: What if there is not enough? What if we run out? People begin to stockpile… and then… because some people are hoarding… there isn’t enough.

But it is into this very anxiety that the prophet calls out, “HO!” And then invites everyone who thirsts to “come to the water.” He even invites those who have no money, to “Come buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

It’s hard to believe. I grew up hearing, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” And…that “if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.”

That is what makes God’s gift of grace so radical. Because it sounds too good to be true and yet… it is true. God pours out blessings upon us; invites us to come and eat… no strings attached.

It is in the spirit of God’s gift of grace that you are invited to a free lunch -- the Almstead’s chicken dinner after worship. It’s true that it’s free and it’s for you.

But, you may argue, someone paid for it. And that’s true too. The Victory Memorial committee is so eager for congregations like ours to reach out into the community and share God’s good news that they gave us a grant for our outreach. The price – of the chicken - has been paid and you have both the gift of the food and the gift of being asked for your input, your prayers and your hopes and dreams for God’s mission in our neighborhood. So you are invited.

But God has more than a free lunch in store for you. God invites the people of Israel – and now you – into relationship and into an abundant life.

What do you think of when you hear the word abundance? I imagine a whole cornucopia of food overflowing. I imagine baskets that are full. But they are not just full of junk. They are full of the best because what God wants for you is not only plenty but – the best. Through the prophet, God asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for what does not satisfy?” Even in the midst of Lent we hears these gracious words: “Eat what is good and delight your selves in rich foods.” God wants the best for you – but not only for you.

I was so surprised when I learned that Robbinsdale/ Crystal was considered a food dessert. This is why Loaves and Fishes decided to host meals just down the street at Brunswick Avenue Methodist. And this is why we and the other Wildfire churches deliver food to children’s lockers on Fridays -- so they and their families can eat a healthy meal over the weekend. And this is why we are collecting food and money for NEAR food shelf.

There are many needs in our community. It is not surprising that people start to get anxious and fearful and uncertain of the future. Like the Israelites, we too live in a world in which it is easy to focus on scarcity rather than abundance.

So again, like for the Israelites, it is into our fear, our anxiety and our uncertainty that God says, “Listen…Incline your ear...Listen so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant.”

God first made a covenant with Noah not to destroy the world. Then God extends that covenant – to Abraham and Sarah and then to David and all the people of Israel. And now, God is extending the covenant even more, opening it wide to include you and me – even though we have done nothing to “deserve” it or “earn” it.

What does God want from us in return? God wants relationship. God wants relationship with you – not as a payment for what God has done. God simply wants a relationship with you because God loves you.

Isaiah encourages the Israelites and us to “Seek the Lord…[and] call upon him” and to “return to the Lord.” If there are things that we have done or are doing that goes against the way that God would have us treat our neighbor – we are invited to repent, to change our ways. This season of Lent gives us time to reflect on what we have done – and not done; time to focus on our faith and seek ways to live our lives honestly and authentically.

So what does it mean to live abundantly?

It is not about me taking care of my own and you taking care of your own. Living abundantly is about caring for GOD’s World…including the people that are living in food insecurity, the people who are hungry, poor and in need. Living abundantly is about sharing God’s love for the whole community.

The Synod’s mission statement is a great summary of God’s mission in our neighborhood: “The Minneapolis Area Synod works together so that all experience gracious invitation into life-giving Christian community and live in just and healthy neighborhoods.”

As part of the Synod, that’s our mission too. So I’d like you to repeat it after me, except, I’m going to insert our name into it too.

“As part of the Minneapolis area Synod, (Repeat)

we the people of Faith-Lilac Way work together (Repeat)

so that all experience gracious invitation (Repeat)

 into life-giving Christian community (Repeat)

 and live in just and healthy neighborhoods.” (Repeat)

That's what it means to live abundantly. You are God’s beloved child and God invites you and wants you to invite your neighbor into a life-giving Christian community.  And God wants us to live in just and healthy neighborhoods. Because that’s an abundant life. And God wants that for you – and your neighbor. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran

March 22, 2019


Lament and Hope


Lament and Hope

Lament and Hope


Today’s Gospel, the reading from Genesis and the Psalm have this in common: Lament.

Jesus compares himself to a mother hen trying to protect her chicks. He has been heading toward Jerusalem but is in anguish because “Jerusalem” – the city representing the people of God -- is acting like a rebellious teenager turning away from God’s grace, love and mercy. Jesus laments.

Abram laments. He trusted God. The Lord had promised him at the beginning of his journey: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Gen. 12:1-2 But now… Abram is old. His wife Sarai is old and is still barren. And Abram laments an unfulfilled dream, what he thinks is a broken promise.

Our Psalmist laments too. Psalm 27 begins with a confident proclamation of faith: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” But then…when God does not seem to answer, the psalm turns to lament. The psalmist begs the Lord: "Do not hide your face from me." And again: "Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help."

Lament. Jesus voices despair at the way of the world, a world turned towards injustice rather than justice, towards greed and power rather than love and mercy. Abram mourns the loss of a dream. And the Psalmist protests the seeming silence of God. All are very real expressions of lament.

As a person who scores exceptionally high in positivity – I almost always see the glass as more than half full – lament is not easy for me. I prefer to look at the bright side. And usually… I do. And yet, there are times that I too find myself turning to lament. I lament the injustice of our world. And I’m not alone. We lament the loss of innocent lives when a gunman shot Muslims at worship in New Zealand. We lament the hurt and pain that people cause one another. We lament missed opportunities to show kindness, to spend time in worthy ways and to be the person that God made us to be.

I truly believe that God welcomes our lament over injustice, understands our grief at unfulfilled hopes and dreams and our complaints that life is not fair…because sometimes it isn’t. In fact, God would prefer you shake your fist and rail in honest despair and righteous anger rather than try to pretend that everything is ok. God wants to be in relationship with you – the real you. And in order to do this, you’ve got to be honest – even if it isn’t pretty. Believe me. God can take it.

I received a call from the police dispatch one late winter afternoon. I remember the day perfectly: It had been bitterly cold the night before but now the sun was shining brightly on the snow. It was beautiful. But when Police dispatch calls – it’s never to report good news. The Police investigators met me outside the house and told me the story. A young woman had been found dead in her car. She was frozen. It was our job to tell the family. They were also there to investigate.

When the father answered the door, he assumed that his daughter was in jail or detox. But we asked to come in… and when we told them what had happened, the mother burst into tears and the father’s jaw dropped. It had been a hard journey for them with their daughter for many years. She had been in and out of treatment for years. The night before she told them she was going to an AA meeting… but when she didn’t come home, they called. She didn’t answer. They assumed she was drinking. Even though that family had been on this path for many years, it was a terrible blow. In a word, they were full of lament. They were people of faith. They had been reading their Bible and praying. Their daughter had been on the prayer chain at their church for years.

In the few hours that I was with them they went from disbelief to shock to anger at her to anger at God to disbelief again. And I told them – it’s ok. Go ahead and be angry with God. God can take it.

They asked me to stay until their pastor came. So I did – reading psalms sometimes and sitting quietly at others while they cried and they told the story again and again as their family and friends started to call. And when their pastor finally arrived… he pulled out his Bible and read a Psalm.

The Psalms are a wonderful gift – they can meet us wherever we are on our journey -- from the depths of lament to the heights of faith and hope. For those who have grown up in the church, the language of the psalms can be familiar and comforting. But for others, sometimes the language needs translation.

The very first person I visited “on my own” when I was on internship was a young woman who was suffering from MS.

I offered to read the Psalms to her. She responded, “I don’t get the Psalms.” Her comment stuck with me.

The words of the psalms – and frankly the whole Bible – is a gift but only if they are understood. So I have taken to reading other translations as well as the traditional one. And I encourage you to do the same. If you read the Bible online, it’s easy to do. There are hundreds of translations available – for free – from One of the ones I like is called the Common English Bible (CEB).

The translation of Psalm 27 that we read ends with: Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! The CEB ends like this: Hope in the Lord! Be strong! Let your heart take courage! Hope in the Lord!

Waiting. Hoping. I like both of these translations. “Wait for the Lord” suggests perseverance and endurance and a patient confidence. “Hope in the Lord” also suggests confidence but with expectation and optimism.

Wait for the Lord. Hope in the Lord. That is God’s response to lament. The Lord takes Abram out of his tent where he is brooding on his misfortune and shows him the sky full of stars. The Lord dares Abram to believe that despite the fact that his wife is barren and he is old, God will make good on his promises and that his descendants will be more numerous than the stars. Abram believes. He dares to wait for the Lord and hope in the Lord. It is counted as “righteousness.”

And God keeps God’s promise. First, by making a covenant with Abram and Sarai, changing their names to Abraham and Sarah and then… by giving them a child. God keeps God’s promises.

Likewise, God says to you: You can dare to trust God’s promises. Even in your darkest hour, and any and all of those times that you lament and ask, “Why God?” or “Where is God?” The Lord says to you, “Wait for the Lord. Hope in the Lord. For in your baptism, God has made a covenant with you – God claims you as God’s own, as a beloved brother or sister of Christ. And… God keeps God’s promises. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

March 17, 2019


Ruth: God Works for Good


Ruth: God Works for Good

Ruth: God Works for Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deacon Kirsten Kessel



Words to Live By


Words to Live By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brothers and sisters in Christ,

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

Thanks be to God!

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith Lilac Way Lutheran Church

March 10, 2019

Luke 4:1-13

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


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


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

The Holy Gospel according to Luke the 9th Chapter.

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

Down the Mountain…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Mar 3, 2019


Love, Mercy, and Generosity


Love, Mercy, and Generosity

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

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

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

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

This is what God wants for us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 6:27-38

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

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

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

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


Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane