Word Alone. Faith Alone. Grace Alone.

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Word Alone. Faith Alone. Grace Alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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A Masterpiece in the Making… Needing the Hand of Another

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A Masterpiece in the Making… Needing the Hand of Another

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

1 Theodore Roder

 

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God is generous – and invites us to be generous too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Community in Christ – with Christ

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Community in Christ – with Christ

Matthew 18:15-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
September 10, 2017

Photo by Evgeny Tchebotarev on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The tables are set. Let's share.

Thanks be to God! Amen!

Comment

God Sightings

Comment

God Sightings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Comment

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

Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

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

Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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      Gospel Text:  Matthew 10: 24-39   Peace and Grace to you from God the Father, and Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!  Boy, I'm glad my in-laws aren't here this morning! Now, there's nothing wrong with my in-laws, I actually really like them. But today's gospel text is one where if you had family visiting, and you knew that this would be the gospel lesson being read, you might want to have everyone sleep in. Jesus uses harsh language here, which may make you think I'm reading from the wrong bible. But Jesus is doing this to make a point. So, let's look into this.  Now, last week, we heard about how Jesus was sending out his newly called disciples into the world, and this week is a continuation of just that. Jesus tells his disciples to not be afraid of the world that they are going out into. The things that he taught them, they should teach to others. What was whispered in the dead of the night, they should shout to the world in broad daylight! Jesus told his disciples to not be afraid of those who could kill just their bodies, but to beware the demons that can destroy both body and soul. It's not the people of this world they should be afraid of!  So, we're already in uncomfortable territory. You mean to tell me Jesus wants us to tell others about him and God, even if we get mocked? But why? Jesus says this: "Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” Yikes! And then Jesus goes on to say that “"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Wait. Where is the Jesus that we know and love? Where is the gentle lamb that we talk about almost every other Sunday? Well, Jesus is still here with us today, and his word comes in the message that we still share everywhere. But why does Jesus seem so harsh? I have trouble with this saying of Jesus. I resist it a lot, not only because it sounds so wrong is so many ways. I resist it because deep down I know it’s true. And That’s what happens when the truth gets told. When the truth is let loose. When the truth is finally uttered.  Because when you are called to speak your truth, stand up for what you believe, a calm and untroubled reception is not always the result. Or, in the words of Angie Thomas, “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”  Dear friends, I want to let you in on a little secret for my sermon writing. Whenever I'm sitting down to write, there are two questions that I ask. The first and foremost is “What is the “for you” statement? That is, what is it that is doing FOR YOU or FOR US that is so important that I would talk about it for ten minutes. The second question that I ask is: as a Lutheran, how do I balance law and gospel of this text. That is, how do I take the rules as well as the good news of Christ, and present them in a message. So, let me answer the second question, and then I'll come back to the first.  The question of law and gospel today is what does Jesus want from us? What Jesus wants from us is Justice. Justice for the poor, justice for the needy, justice for the hurting and broken. It's easy to look at the news, say “how sad” and go back to work. It's easy see pain and hurt in the world, and walk away. It's easy to go from day to day, head down, charging forward, never seeing those around us. What's not easy is doing something. I once heard that in any given situation there are three things that you can do, the right thing, the wrong thing, and nothing. The best thing to do is the right thing. The second best thing to do is the wrong thing, you might learn something. The worst thing that you can do is nothing. By doing nothing, you stay in the same old cycles. By doing nothing, anything that could make life better for someone else won't happen. And by doing nothing, according to Jesus in today's passage, we are losing our lives.  Alright, that answers one question. The other question, more importantly, is what is the FOR YOU in all of this. The FOR YOU is that because of who Christ is, we can be who we are. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. The title of Christian breaks down to mean “little Christ.” Now, where do we see THAT in our gospel? “"A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.” You see, God has done great things in each of our lives, and has freed us so that we do great things for others. God knows and cares for each one of us, down to the hairs on our heads. And because God cares for us, we are free. We are free to be like Jesus, our master and teacher in this world, bringing comfort, healing, and justice where it is needed most.  Dear Friends in Christ, it is enough that we are to be like Christ. It is enough that we try to bring justice to the world, and we try to do the right thing. The world is hurting. And sometimes it hurts right outside our front door. But because of what God is doing in our lives, we can be the people of Christ in the world. I believe in the ability of all of us to make the world a better place.. So, go, people of God. Strive for justice. Be like Christ the teacher. Don't be afraid of the world pushing back, God knows your value, you are worth more than many sparrows. Apart from God, we can do nothing. But with God, we can do great things. So go, find your life in God. Do the right things, learn from the wrong things, and never do nothing.  Thanks be to God, Amen.

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Gospel Text: Matthew 10: 24-39

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

Boy, I'm glad my in-laws aren't here this morning! Now, there's nothing wrong with my in-laws, I actually really like them. But today's gospel text is one where if you had family visiting, and you knew that this would be the gospel lesson being read, you might want to have everyone sleep in. Jesus uses harsh language here, which may make you think I'm reading from the wrong bible. But Jesus is doing this to make a point. So, let's look into this.

Now, last week, we heard about how Jesus was sending out his newly called disciples into the world, and this week is a continuation of just that. Jesus tells his disciples to not be afraid of the world that they are going out into. The things that he taught them, they should teach to others. What was whispered in the dead of the night, they should shout to the world in broad daylight! Jesus told his disciples to not be afraid of those who could kill just their bodies, but to beware the demons that can destroy both body and soul. It's not the people of this world they should be afraid of!

So, we're already in uncomfortable territory. You mean to tell me Jesus wants us to tell others about him and God, even if we get mocked? But why? Jesus says this: "Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” Yikes! And then Jesus goes on to say that “"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Wait. Where is the Jesus that we know and love? Where is the gentle lamb that we talk about almost every other Sunday? Well, Jesus is still here with us today, and his word comes in the message that we still share everywhere. But why does Jesus seem so harsh? I have trouble with this saying of Jesus. I resist it a lot, not only because it sounds so wrong is so many ways. I resist it because deep down I know it’s true. And That’s what happens when the truth gets told. When the truth is let loose. When the truth is finally uttered.

Because when you are called to speak your truth, stand up for what you believe, a calm and untroubled reception is not always the result. Or, in the words of Angie Thomas, “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”

Dear friends, I want to let you in on a little secret for my sermon writing. Whenever I'm sitting down to write, there are two questions that I ask. The first and foremost is “What is the “for you” statement? That is, what is it that is doing FOR YOU or FOR US that is so important that I would talk about it for ten minutes. The second question that I ask is: as a Lutheran, how do I balance law and gospel of this text. That is, how do I take the rules as well as the good news of Christ, and present them in a message. So, let me answer the second question, and then I'll come back to the first.

The question of law and gospel today is what does Jesus want from us? What Jesus wants from us is Justice. Justice for the poor, justice for the needy, justice for the hurting and broken. It's easy to look at the news, say “how sad” and go back to work. It's easy see pain and hurt in the world, and walk away. It's easy to go from day to day, head down, charging forward, never seeing those around us. What's not easy is doing something. I once heard that in any given situation there are three things that you can do, the right thing, the wrong thing, and nothing. The best thing to do is the right thing. The second best thing to do is the wrong thing, you might learn something. The worst thing that you can do is nothing. By doing nothing, you stay in the same old cycles. By doing nothing, anything that could make life better for someone else won't happen. And by doing nothing, according to Jesus in today's passage, we are losing our lives.

Alright, that answers one question. The other question, more importantly, is what is the FOR YOU in all of this. The FOR YOU is that because of who Christ is, we can be who we are. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. The title of Christian breaks down to mean “little Christ.” Now, where do we see THAT in our gospel? “"A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.” You see, God has done great things in each of our lives, and has freed us so that we do great things for others. God knows and cares for each one of us, down to the hairs on our heads. And because God cares for us, we are free. We are free to be like Jesus, our master and teacher in this world, bringing comfort, healing, and justice where it is needed most.

Dear Friends in Christ, it is enough that we are to be like Christ. It is enough that we try to bring justice to the world, and we try to do the right thing. The world is hurting. And sometimes it hurts right outside our front door. But because of what God is doing in our lives, we can be the people of Christ in the world. I believe in the ability of all of us to make the world a better place.. So, go, people of God. Strive for justice. Be like Christ the teacher. Don't be afraid of the world pushing back, God knows your value, you are worth more than many sparrows. Apart from God, we can do nothing. But with God, we can do great things. So go, find your life in God. Do the right things, learn from the wrong things, and never do nothing.

Thanks be to God, Amen.

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Joy in the Harvest

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Joy in the Harvest

It was 10:45 in the morning but the room was dark. The shades were drawn. The man on the bed looked old, shriveled up, a husk of his old vibrant self. And yet… I knew what to do.

“Bob! I called out as I shook him gently. It’s time to worship! I’ve come to take you.” Bob opened his eyes. They were sad… distant…he shook his head no.

Bob suffers from depression – and it looked like the dark forces of depression had sunk him deep into his bed.

But I had seen this before… and I knew that – at least for Bob – there was a cure…or at least powerful relief from the pain.

I’ve been visiting Bob at St. Therese for years. A few years ago he confessed to me: “When you first came, I voted against you because I didn’t think women could be pastors. But now… you are my pastor.” Bob has become my biggest fan. And so … I said to him with a straight face, “But Bob… you have to come. I’m preaching.”

At that, Bob slowly got up… and let me guide him into his wheelchair, bend down and put his shoes on him (I’d forgotten his shoes the last time and embarrassed him completely) and wheel him into worship. Half an hour later, Bob was beaming. The forces of evil of his depression were beaten down by the power of the Gospel – and he was set free.

Jesus told his disciples, “As you go, proclaim the good news, "The kingdom of heaven has come near.' “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”

Jesus admonition to his disciples sounds impossible for our day. We send our sick and lepers, those with physical ailments, to medical doctors. We don’t talk much about “casting out demons” or raising the dead in our culture. And yet… isn’t that what happened to Bob? He was lying there – dead to the world and shrouded in his depression. But the Good News of Jesus broke through.

And Bob is not the only one. I visited Alice recently and gave her a prayer shawl. She snuggled into it and said, “Oh thank you… this is just what I need.” Alice’s memory is fading – and so in the middle of the conversation she said to me… “This is so nice – I love this – I don’t want to give it back.” Again, I explained that the prayer shawl was our gift to her – that the woman who made the prayer shawl was praying as she crocheted and that as she wore the shawl around her shoulders it was like the congregation surrounding her in prayer. “Really?” she asked. “Really.” I said. And then… as I was leaving, she said, “I suppose you want this shawl back” – hugging it close to her body. Again, I said, no, it is our gift to you. And she smiled. The Good News of God’s love breaks through with prayer –sometimes in small stitches.

Jesus commissions us – sends us out -- to bear witness to God’s love. Sometimes it seems so ordinary – a helping hand with a garden, giving a ride to a neighbor, babysitting, bringing a meal to someone. But we do these ordinary acts of love because we have first received Christ’s love. And it is because we know God’s love for us, we can share that love -- and we dare to have hope – despite whatever challenges surround us.

And there are challenges in our lives and in our world. A friend of mine said that he has stopped watching the news at night because he can’t sleep if he does. More than once have I been reminded of the old curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

When Paul writes to the Romans, they were in “Interesting times” too – and they were despairing. And yet, Paul urges them not to despair. Instead, he challenges them to dare to hope.

In what seems like an odd progression Paul writes, “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

It’s not that Paul was urging them to suffer. Suffering comes without our seeking it. We are human after all. But Paul reminds us that we can grow in faith through the challenges of life because life’s challenges, especially those times in which we are not in control, can remind us to trust in God and not ourselves. Paul reminds us that we can dare to hope, a hope that “does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit”

That’s why we can endure the pain and suffering of this world. That’s why, whatever challenges life throws our way – whether of our own doing or someone else’s, we dare to hope. Because we know the end of the story: God’s love wins. People today often call the ability to keep going despite challenges in our life: resilience. But it’s more than that – it’s resilience based on the knowledge that Jesus Christ is with you and the body of Christ is with you too.

If I have learned anything about the Christian life – it’s that it is not an independent enterprise. Faith is not something that is between me and Jesus. Instead, faith comes through the body of Christ – the community of Christ that gathers to eat together, to take wine and bread together, to worship, to pray, to knit prayers together, to care for one another.

Jesus sends us as laborers in the harvest – together. Have you ever gone out to pick strawberries or blackberries? When I was just a little girl – I would go out with my family. Pick a few…eat a few… It was a delicious enterprise – but even though I missed a lot, even as a little girl I was amazed how soon my basket would be overflowing. We often discount our own gifts and our own ability to be witnesses for Christ. We – at least I – sometimes beat myself up for not being a better witness. But being a witness for Christ is not just about us and our efforts– it’s a family affair – the body of Christ working together and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us. Never discount the power of the Holy Spirit.

As I was preparing for today I ran across a blog by a fellow pastor-poet, Steve Garnaas Holmes, who suggested:

Maybe the harvest is not bringing people to Christ
but gathering the fruits of the Spirit God has sown in you
for the sake of the world.
Maybe it's not an act of taking,…but receiving.
The harvest is plentiful but few are the people who have gathered,who have received the gifts, the grace,
the love growing in your heart, and feasted on those fruits
to be strengthened to go out and heal the wounded,
and be good news for the broken of the world.
The field stretches to the horizon.
There are more trees in this orchard than stars in heaven.

What grace have you not yet harvested?
Go into that good harvest.
Here is a basket for your labors. Go. 1

Brothers and sisters in Christ, may your basket overflow with the gifts of God. And then… just like a basket of just picked strawberries – it’s better shared. And so bask in the love of Christ that God has poured out into your heart and share this gift of grace in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
June 18, 2017

1 "Harvest" Steve Garnaas-Holmes

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Gospel Text: Matthew 28:16-20

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

    So, today's Gospel lesson comes from the last chapter in Matthew's Gospel. Now, if you're going to finish a lesson or a letter, you want to be able to tell the people at the end “now go do this.” Assuming that they've been listening, the “now go do this” will be what you have been teaching them to do. In today's lesson, we have a sort of graduation for the disciples. Now, Jesus is giving them a graduation speech, and telling them what to do next. So let's take a look.

    Now, after Jesus had been raised from the dead, the disciples were called to Galilee to have a meeting with Jesus. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. Don't worry, Thomas, you're not the only disciple who doubted. Jesus came to them and told them that all authority on heaven and on earth had been granted to him. Because of this, the disciples were to go to all nations, baptize them, and teach them to obey everything that Jesus had commanded them. Also, remember, Jesus is with them, to the end of time.

    Now, earlier, I mentioned that this was a graduation ceremony for these disciples. And while they didn't have caps and gowns, they did have a good speech to send them on their way.  Now, Jesus had spent three years with his disciples, and they got to see and hear it all. When Jesus did miracles, they were there. When Jesus taught, they were there. And when Jesus died and rose again, you'd better believe that they were there. And standing here now in Jesus's presence, they again see the mystery and the power of Christ, now fully incarnate standing before them. And so, Jesus, having all the authority of heaven and earth, gave power and responsibility to the disciples to go and create the church. Now, the church that we have today is due to a number of changes, disagreements, and reformations. But that is the nature of the church, constantly changing to better help the needs of our neighbor, and to serve as God's hands and feet in the world.

    Now, while this was a graduation speech for the disciples, it's also a message for all of us today. This morning, we celebrate Trinity Sunday, the Sunday in which we celebrate the three persons of the Trinity, that is: God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer.  Now, if you were to be asked on a test how it is that God is both three parts as well as one whole God, the correct answer would be “I don't know.” It's okay to say that there are some things about God that we do not know yet. That is okay. But if you want to know the history of our faith, past, present, and future, look at the trinity:

    In our children's message this morning, we heard about God the Creator, and the wondrous acts that God did in creating the world. In six days, the world and everything in it was created, and on the seventh day, God rested. But because sin entered the world, all of humanity is suffering. We can see the effects of sin happening all over the world, in every heartache and tragedy. But God created a way for us to not only understand God better, but also as a way for us to live eternally, and that way is through belief in Jesus Christ. Christ came to the world to redeem humanity, and through his sacrifice and death on the cross, and resurrection, God made all things new. And after his resurrection, God gave us another advocate, which is the holy spirit, to help guide us and keep us connected to God. It is through this Holy Spirit that we can come to know everything that God has done for us in Jesus, and that we can continue to pass the blessing on to others. So there we have it. In the past, God created and everything in it. In the present, we bring Christ's message of hope and salvation to those around us. And in the future, the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us and the church as a whole in the work of God.

    Dear friends in Christ, today's lesson is a graduation for all believers. Jesus Christ, who has been given all authority, has given us the call to go out into the world, to make disciples of all nations, and to teach them to observe everything that God has commanded us. Because of who God is, we can be who we are. Now, like a school class about to graduate, do we know everything? Certainly not! But we do know what we need to know. We know that God so loved the world, that God gave us Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit now dwells within us. And we know that God has commanded us to love God above all else, and God has commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. So, here is your commission. Go. Make disciples of all nations. Teach them to love, as you have been loved. Keep coming back to church to learn more, and to be in community with others. Keep praying for others. Pray, read the bible, and continue to grow.

And so, graduating class of Eternity, it is by Jesus Christ, from whom all authority comes, that you are able to be these people in the world. Go in peace, thanks be to God. Amen.

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The Holy Spirit is still showing up!

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The Holy Spirit is still showing up!

 in surprising ways… and in ordinary ways… 

Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost was a harvest festival day. Jerusalem was full of people from all over, pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem to worship. But Jesus followers – a group of believers of about 120 people - about our size – were by themselves… gathered together.

It started out as an ordinary harvest festival day except that this time…all over the city people heard the sound of a strong wind, a gale force – a tornado – and they ran to see what was making this noise. And when the people arrived they heard Jesus’ followers – mostly Galileans – speaking their language and telling about the glory of God. And they all wondered…how could this be?

The Holy Spirit made quite an entrance on that first Pentecost. The sound of a wild tornado made people look. And then they listened. And then they heard the good news.

The Holy Spirit is still showing up in our world and in our lives today--- sometimes in surprising ways – and sometimes in more ordinary ways.

The Holy Spirit was present this past week in Portland, Oregon. I don’t know if you heard the story, but on a busy commuter train in Portland, a man whose last name, unfortunately, was “Christian” began to shout racial slurs at two young women, one of whom was Muslim and was wearing a hijab.

In response to this hateful speech, three men – a college grad, an army veteran and a poet got up to intervene. Two of them, the 23 year old recent college graduate, Namkai Meche and the army veteran, Rick Best, were stabbed to death. The third man, Micah Fletcher, the poet, is still in the hospital after suffering serious injuries.

Why did they act? In another context, the army veteran Rick Best said to a reporter "I can't stand by and do nothing." I think that that statement was true for all three. In the moment of seeing a man bully, taunt and threaten two young women, these three men stood up against the evil. They acted out of their convictions.

Was this the work of the Holy Spirit? I think so. As Paul writes, “There are varieties of activities but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Both of the men who died were reported to be men of faith – one a Catholic and the other’s faith was not named. But whether or not these men proclaimed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior in their faith life, they acted as Good Samaritans. And, if you remember the Good Samaritan story, Jesus doesn’t mention anything about how the Samaritan worships. He only tells the story of how the Samaritan – the person least expected to respond with love and care – was the one who responds to the need at the side of the road.

Their action got a lot of attention. Sometimes the work of the Holy Spirit is dramatic – and causes people to do something that is so out of the ordinary that it makes others take note.

But this is not the only way that the Holy Spirit works. The Holy Spirit was also active as one of our members recently took another person to Lutheran Social Services to get help writing a resume. The Holy Spirit was present as the faithful gathered to send Bill Kranz home to the Lord and gathered to celebrate with Nicole on her graduation celebration yesterday.

The Holy Spirit was present when I called Catholic Charities this past week asking for help for a friend. There were a lot of reasons that I can’t share publicly that I did not think that they would want to help me – or my friend. But I called anyway. A woman named Marie answered the phone. She had a lovely voice. I said, you probably don’t want to help me but… and I rattled off three or four reasons why they wouldn’t want to help. I was expecting her to say no. And yet, Marie batted down every reason I gave for why she wouldn’t want to help my friend. In short, the Holy Spirit prevailed. In the end, all I could say was, “Thank you.”

The Holy Spirit is alive and well and active among us. Some of you bake loaves of bread, bars and bundt cakes to share. Others deliver a meal to a neighbor in need – or through Dinner at your Door. Others have opened up their home. The list goes on.

Sometimes I think we simply neglect to name and claim the work of the Holy Spirit. But naming and claiming the work of the Holy Spirit is important – because otherwise it will just be dismissed or mis-characterized.

That’s what happened on that Pentecost day in Acts. People noticed the wind. They heard the good news spoken in their own language. But not all of them were ready to believe. No, they were ready to sneer – and assume that this unusual behavior was because they were drunk on cheap wine.

I always thought that this was just bad sarcastic behavior of unbelievers. But it turns out that there was a religious group at the time that did get drunk on cheap wine and worked themselves into a frenzy – and claimed that it was the power of God. This is why Peter had to stand up and debunk the false stories. He had to explain that the people were not drunk – but that the Holy Spirit had come.

And that is why people today have to stand up to evil too. We do not want to be identified with people who call themselves Christian or who are named Christian - yet who don’t act like it.

At the Synod Assembly last month, Assistant to the Bishop Deb Stehlen said that Christians need to be unafraid to look weird. Because if we don’t sound and act differently than the rest of the world, who would notice? What would be compelling about being Christian if it doesn’t make a difference in our lives? She encouraged us take Sabbath seriously. Listen to the Word of God. Pray. And then…Act on our convictions. That’s when people will take notice. That’s when they listen -- because something different is going on. Just like at Pentecost – people noticed something different was happening. And then they listened.

It isn’t always going to be easy. It wasn’t easy for the three men in Portland. Micah Fletcher, the poet who survived reflected,

"I am alive,

I spat in the eye of hate and lived.

This is what we must do for one another

We must live for one another

We must fight for one another

We must die in the name of freedom if we have to.

Luckily it's not my turn today"

 

Fletcher challenges us to stand up against hate – and for our neighbor. And that is what we, as Christians, are called to do every day: Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Share the good news.

But we cannot and should not try to do it alone. We are not called to be super heroes. We, as the body of Christ, are called to follow Jesus. And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to walk beside us, to lead and guide us to help us act with love –and not hate. And like Peter, we have to tell people why we act with love and kindness. It’s not just because we are good people. It is because the Holy Spirit is alive and well and working through us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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