The Word of God in the Wilderness

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The Word of God in the Wilderness

The Holy Gospel according to Luke the third chapter:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' " Luke 3:1-6     The Gospel of the Lord.

The Word of God in the Wilderness

Luke begins this passage with a list of the “powers that be” of the time. He includes not one or two – but seven leaders of the world. These are the people that are in the news. These are the people that get the headlines, that have the power. But… notice: the Word of the Lord doesn’t come  to any of these. Instead, Luke writes, “”the word of God came to John son of Zechariah… in the wilderness.”

Compared to the first seven names, John was a nobody. He didn’t have any of the vestiges of power or wealth or prestige or position. He was a young and in the wilderness, place where no one who could avoid it would go. After all… the places of power and influence were in Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome.

The wilderness was a dangerous barren place of waiting, testing and challenge.  The wilderness is where God sent the people of Israel after leaving Egypt – the most technically advanced country of the time. The wilderness is where bandits and outlaws fled as well as people who wanted or needed to live outside of grasp of the power of the world. It’s where Moses fled and where Jesus was driven. It was a dangerous barren place of waiting, testing and challenge.

And yet… Luke writes…“”the word of God came to John son of Zechariah… in the wilderness.” So… essentially… the word of God came to a no-body in the midst of no-where. But…that’s often how the Word of God shows up.

Where do we expect power to be? Maybe if Luke was writing today, he would say: In the second year of the presidency of Donald Trump, while Mark Dayton was governor of Minnesota, and Putin was ruler of Russia and Angela Merkel was chancellor of Germany while Pope Francis was leader of the Roman Catholic Church and the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton was bishop of the ELCA, the Word of God came to… Becca… and the children of God at Faith-Lilac Way… and to you.

The Word of God is not limited to those that the world deems powerful or privileged or in positions of authority. As we see in Luke, God – and the Word of God -- shows up in surprising places.

This past week, I heard the Word of God in some of the places that I expected to find the Word of God and in some surprising places.

I heard the Word of God in worship on Wednesday night. It was a small gathering at our midweek service but those who came read scripture, prayed and… as we lit the first Advent candle, we sang of hope, the hope of God in our midst – despite the challenges of the world around us. It was refreshing– I hope for others – but certainly for me – to hear the words of God’s promise of God’s presence with us in the midst of the life’s ordinary challenges.

But I also heard the Word of God when I met with Becca. From our backgrounds, it would seem unlikely that Becca and I would meet.  Before moving to Minnesota, I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin in a Scandinavian-American Lutheran family. Becca was raised in an Asian-American Buddhist family and grew up in California. Our stories sound pretty different. But… Becca has an quite the story.

Becca studied and became a financial accountant in a big firm. But…because of work, she and her husband moved to Ohio. She was a person of faith – a Buddhist --but since the closest temple was quite a drive away, she found that she just wasn’t getting to worship. So… they started to attend a place of worship in their neighborhood. It happened to be a church… a Lutheran church. And in that Lutheran church, the Word of God spoke to Becca….and called her into ministry to proclaim the Good News of Jesus.

In just a few minutes, the youth and children of this congregation will be donning shepherd and angels costumes in preparation of the annual Christmas program. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear the story, somehow, the story of the birth Jesus, who came in a very ordinary way as a vulnerable baby to a poor unwed mother - when it comes through the voices and actions of children is always extraordinary and always new. Perhaps it is because, again, the Word of God comes powerfully through ordinary people – like me and you.  

How is the Word of God coming to and through you?

Perhaps you are in a wilderness right now. As I visit people in the hospital or go with my mother to her doctor appointments – as I did this past week, I look at people’s faces. Sometimes I see the anxiety and fear of the unknown. Other times, I see weariness and pain. Often… people are just waiting… hoping but not knowing. This is wilderness time. And… oddly enough… this is one of the times that people are often open to hearing the Word of God in a new way.

The Word of God comes to us in many ways. I invite you to be open to the way of God’s Spirit this Advent time. Our culture makes Advent into a time of busy-ness. But Advent is also a time of waiting… watching… and listening for the way God is speaking to us anew.  

There is both hope and disruption, promise and proclamation in the words that John quotes from the book of Isaiah. "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' "

Valleys are filled; mountains and hills are leveled; the crooked made straight, the rough places made smooth. Isaiah and John proclaim big changes in the environment around them. And change is not always easy. But…the good news of God prevails. For “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” This is God’s promise – for you… and for your neighbor. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran

2nd Sunday of Advent, Dec 9, 2018


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Courage to Hope - Do not be Afraid

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Courage to Hope - Do not be Afraid

Luke 21:25-36

25 "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." 29 Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

Courage to Hope not Fear

I love all of the preparations for Christmas – the cookie baking, Christmas concerts, Christmas shopping, decorating the tree and the house, the Christmas cards – well… I never write mine until well after the season Christmas is passed. But… I love it all.

But today’s Gospel not about any of that. Instead, the message sounds ominous: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars and on the earth distress... and the roaring of the seas and the waves.” And not only signs – but warnings: “Be alert” ; “watch”;” be ready”. Jesus’ words are enough to strike fear into our hearts.

Fear is a powerful force. And it is meant to be. Fear gets the adrenaline pumping allowing people to flee from danger – like the Campfire in California. And fear can cause people to stand their ground and fight when attacked, for example, by a bear in the wilderness. Or fear can cause someone who is strong to freeze in place. But in each of these cases - fear elicits a reaction.

Fear is exactly the right response when one is facing a grizzly bear or a wildfire. Brain scientists say that fear is a primordial survival tactic that operates out of the brain stem. Fear focuses our attention.  Peter Steink, a congregational systems consultant and ELCA pastor, says this is the work of the part of the brain called the “amygdala, ” which acts as our  body’s anxiety alarm system, or “Fear button.” It shuts down our thinking and makes us makes us want certainty. It eliminates our imagination and limits our vision. This is very helpful when you are facing something that is life threatening. You need to be full of adrenaline and focus.

However, when you are afraid, you cannot reason, you cannot think. You can only react. When we are afraid, we cannot use any of the gifts God gave us of reason or compassion, curiosity or imagination.

This is why Dr. David Lose, a pastor and theologian, makes the claim that “the greatest challenge we face today is not war, or economic inequity, or community unrest, or prejudice, or division, but fear.”1

This isn’t a new problem. Pharaoh was afraid of the growing number of strong Israelites – so what did he do?. He declared them “other”. He turned them into an enemy that he could exploit and enslave.  Not too different than today’s despots. Fear also causes us to horde, like one of the characters in Jesus’ parables, assuming that we will never have enough. But Jesus said that the one who hoarded lost it all that night. Fear makes us make bad choices. Fear also drives wedges of distrust instead of compassion into our relationships.  Fear causes us to look for differences – instead of our common ground. And, as Lose says, fear “drives us inward, hardens our hearts, darkens our vision, and stunts our imagination.”1

But that is not what God wants for us. When God sends a messenger, often the first words are: “Do not be afraid!”  Granted, that may be because to see an angel of the Lord is a frightening thing, but God’s intention is not to instill fear in us.

God gave us more than just a reactionary brain. Our left frontal cortex allows us to be reflective; and to put things in story narrative. This allows us to make sense of the situation and our lives not only from our own knee jerk self interest but also from a different light and from someone else’s perspective.2

Jesus warns his followers of the signs and wonders that will happen. But he does this not so that they will fight or flee or freeze. Instead, Jesus says, “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

That takes courage.

It takes courage to stand up when others are fearful. It takes courage to appeal to reason rather than join in the fray of insults. It takes courage – and imagination – to consider another way than the two competing alternatives.  

It takes courage to dare to hope and believe in the promises of Jesus.  But Jesus also tells his disciples – and us – that while heaven and earth will come to an end, his Words will remain.

Jesus’ words will remain. So what are these words?

Our Gospel reading for today comes right before Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.  Listen to Jesus’ words: “This is my body, given for you; this is my blood, shed for you.” Jesus offers himself as real presence. After they crucify him, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And Jesus gives his disciples then and now a new role, saying, “You are my witnesses”.

Jesus’ empowers us to be witnesses, to offer hope and imaginative possibilities to the world rather than fear. God gives us the courage to believe in the promises of Jesus, knowing that there is “nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

We are still in the midst of God’s story here on earth. So we will continue to watch and pray and act with hope and imagination so that we can be a part of God’s kingdom here on earth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church, December 2, 2018

1 http://www.davidlose.net/2018/11/advent-1-c-courage/

2. Peter Steinke at Workshop at Westwood Lutheran church 2009

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Christ the King Sunday

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Christ the King Sunday

John 18:33-38

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

Christ Jesus –King of Love

Jesus is the Way, Truth, Life… through Love

Pilate is a pretty easy guy not to like. His rule was brutal. The Gospel of Luke notes that he had some Galileans slaughtered – their crime? Going to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. Appointed by Caesar as Governor of the region, Pilate was a political man who had made it to the top of his little hill. He was “king of the mountain”- and like the winter game by the same name that I played as a kid, the goal, once you got to the top of the snow “mountain” was to keep everyone else off. As “king of his mountain” Pilate was always on the lookout for others who would seek to take his place.

Pilate asks Jesus directly: Are you the king of the Jews? In other words, are you a threat to me and my power?

When Jesus told him that his followers were not going to fight, Pilate’s knee-jerk reaction to protect his own position seemed to be satisfied and he was curious, “What have you done to be handed over to me?” Pilate doesn’t understand Jesus’ response. He doesn’t understand any other kind of king or kingdom than the type that he rules – with force and might, by hook or crook. When Jesus speaks of truth, Pilate, who doesn’t realize that he is speaking to the one who IS Truth responds, “What is truth?”

Pilate represents the worst of our world. He is the “king of the hill” based on power, might, and brute force. “Truth” is what he says it will be.

Jesus turns the world’s concept of power upside down. But that does not mean that Jesus is merely referring to a “spiritual” kingdom, that will come in the sweet by and by, a kingdom that has nothing to do with our world. Quite the opposite. Jesus shows us a different way – God’s way.

The Jesuits tell a story about Napoleon Bonaparte, who, though he was an incredible General and leader, understood that Jesus offered something that he could never offer. According to the story, Napoleon expressed it this way:

“I know men, and I tell you Jesus Christ is not a man... I have so inspired multitudes that they would die for me... the lightning of my eye, my voice, a word from me, then the sacred fire was kindled in their hearts.

I do, indeed, possess the secret of his magical power that lifts the soul, but I could never impart it to anyone. None of my generals learned it from me; nor have I the means of perpetuating... love for me in the hearts of men.” 1

Napoleon was right. Jesus kingship is different. It is not the kingship of this world, based on power and might or even on strength of personality and persuasion.

The way of Jesus exposes the hard and honest truth about us – we are not unlike the people who gathered to watch Pilate’s pronouncement upon Jesus. We are not any different than the ones who cried, “Crucify him.” Historically, the powers of the day that sentenced Jesus to death were the Roman government, the religious leaders of the time and popular opinion that was easily swayed by the leaders of the day. But when you get beyond the historical timeline, it’s not so different today.

As Bishop Curry writes, the motivations for killing Jesus then are alive and well in our world today: “self-interest, self-centeredness, greed, jealousy, political and economic corruption, religious narrow-mindedness and intolerance, individual cowardice, bigotry, violence, hatred, and indifference--what our biblical tradition actually calls sin.”

“Sin.” It’s a word that has too often been used by leaders in the church to condemn others. Religious leaders pointed their fingers at Jesus, accusing him of sinning by healing on the Sabbath. But Sin is not about doing good. As Bishop Curry says, ““Sin is selfishness. Sin is self-centered existence, and that self-centered existence left untethered makes no room for anyone else. And in the end, this selfish existence has the capacity to actually destroy life itself. Every war that has ever been fought, every bigotry and hatred that has ever been wrought, the fruit of every humanly devised evil has its root in this sinful selfishness.”

Confronted by the truth of our own failings – both for the things that we have done and said and the things that we have left undone and unsaid, we gather to confess our selfishness, our willingness to ignore the pain of others, our desire to be “comfortable,” our willingness to point the finger rather than confess our own shortcomings.

And then… we receive forgiveness and the gift of love.

Jesus is the king of love, the king who shows us the way, tells us the truth, and gives us an abundant life – not for the life to come but so that we can live an abundant life today. For Jesus is not only the King of love but teaches us to love.

The gift of love is not a one-time gift that we receive and then are suddenly transformed into being just like Jesus. The gift of love takes practice. It takes practice to receive it – and practice to give it. But that is what Jesus calls us to do and who God calls us to be.

Jesus teaches us to walk in his way, the way of love. Like Jesus, we are to love and forgive our neighbor – as they are. Like Jesus, we are to look at the places in our neighborhood and in our world to see the places and people that need to be lifted up. Like Jesus, we are to feed the hungry, care for the stranger and help the poor.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus is the King of Love who points to the truth, and teaches us God’s way, the way of love that gives us life.

Our response? Let us praise Jesus as the King and Lord of our lives. Let us sing with joy that Jesus came, humbly entering into our world and our lives to give us truth and love and life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church November 25, 2018

1. Ignatian Spirituality by Fr. Mark Link, SJ quotes from J.S.C.Abbott’s two-volume work, The History of Napoleon Bonaparte http://www.jesuits-chgdet.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Partners_SP04_page22-23_IgSpiritlty.pdf

2 The Most Reverend Michael Curry: http://day1.org/8299michael_curry_the_king_of_love

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Thanks Living

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Thanks Living

It was New Years and Brian Doyle was driving home with some friends.  It was late - and dark. Suddenly a car started flashing its lights at him. How annoying he thought. But then… he  realized. That car was trying to warn him of another car that was barreling down the highway towards him – going much faster than the speed limit –and it was coming at him in his lane. It was close. He could read its license plate. Finally, realizing the danger, he swerved onto the shoulder and car coming towards him sped by – never noticing that they almost crashed.

Doyle was pretty shaken. He couldn’t help but think about how close he came to losing his life.  He wondered – when he left the house, did he tell his mom he loved her? He thought about the things that he would have regretted not doing and not saying if that night had been his last.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving Day. Perhaps because Brian had been thinking a lot about his almost-accident, that night, as he scrolled through his Facebook messages, he was struck by the overwhelming spirit of gratitude expressed in message after message. Inspired, Brian wondered, “why not say ‘Thank you’ to someone every day?”

The next day he posted his intention on-line and created the blog "365 Days of Thank You."

Brian found it trans-formative. Every day he woke up thinking about who he could thank that day – and for what he wanted to thank them.

He began with his best friend in a coffee shop the next day. After his closest friends, he reached out to mentors and teachers. Then… on day 183, he went home for a break. Out on the golf course with his dad… he knew he wanted to say thank you to his dad – but found it really hard to know how to begin. He said, “I had never just sat down with my dad and thanked him for what he has done for me.” His dad received it with humility – and they talked on that golf bench for two hours. Brian said, “It really unlocked a deep relationship that I never knew I was missing.”

Back in his home town on day 249, he saw a guy walking with his mom. Brian recognized him as David, a boy he knew in grade school who had Asburger syndrome. He remembered that David had been mercilessly bullied and teased – and yet he did not it bother him. David had learned to let the comments slide like water on a duck’s back – and instead of looking angry, had always stood a little taller.  Brian called him over and thanked him for being a role model for him.

David was surprised – but his wasn’t the biggest reaction. Brian looked up to see David’s mom with her hands over her face crying. And then Brian realized - No one had ever thanked David before.

Brian learned, that year, the power of gratitude –for those that were thanked, for himself and for those who were witnesses.

Today and tomorrow, we pause to give thanks to God for all the gifts that God has given to us – our life and our relationships with God and with one another. But perhaps Brian’s right. The words “Thank you” don’t have to be reserved for days like today.  And it’s never too late to say. As a wise friend once said to me when I worried that I had taken too long to write a thank you note: the statute of limitations never runs out on saying “Thank you.”

Thank you. I thank God for you. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Thanksgiving Eve Nov 21, 2018

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Hope in the Midst of Change

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Hope in the Midst of Change

Mark 13:1-8

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.  The Gospel of the Lord.

“On a blazing summer day in the 1850’s, a lumber mill crew with wagon and ox took a break under a grove of tall evergreens. The air was cool, the pine needles fragrant.

‘Boys,’ said the team boss, ‘this is paradise.’” 1

That’s the legend of how the town of Paradise, California was named. It didn’t take long before others followed, some seeking lumber and others looking for gold. Later, people came seeking a reprieve from the city life and delighting in this town of 27,000 where housing was affordable, neighbors knew one another, and generations of people raised families and retired in this peaceful beautiful paradise of a place.

But that vision was destroyed last week as the “Camp fire” blazes rushed in so quickly that many residents were caught off-guard. They had been evacuated before – but always been able to return quickly as the fire burned somewhere else.  But this time, the fire rushed in and consumed their houses, the cars that they were driving and everything else in sight.

It doesn’t look like “paradise” any more.. People are beginning to come back – but instead of houses, cars and swing sets they find ash and rubble and burned up hopes and dreams. It’s heartbreaking.

Rubble was all that was left after the Roman army, seeking to put down the rebellion and punish freedom seekers, destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. It wasn’t just a church building. It was the holiest of holies, the center of Jewish faith, the house of God. Devastated, people of faith were asking: Why didn’t God protect God’s house? Did this mean the end was near?

But Mark, writing his Gospel about 70 years after Jesus’ resurrection and shortly after the destruction of the temple, remembered the story that when one of Jesus’ disciples glowed with admiration of the awe-inspiring temple, Jesus prophesied: “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”  And then… when the disciples asked him privately when this would happen and if this was a sign from God. Jesus dismisses it as simply the beginning of birth pangs.

Many people – like the disciples – have wondered about when the end of the world would be. Again and again, charismatic leaders proclaim that they “know the time,” they have read the signs – and then they get people to sell or give away all of their belongings to wait for the end of world.

But Jesus’s prophecy is not a prediction of the end of the world. Instead, Jesus urges his disciples and us not to put our faith and hope in things that we build of stone, metal, wood, fiber, plastic or anything else. All of these structures, all of these things, can be destroyed in an instant by fire or storm or war or …like the 35W bridge… from neglect and decay.  

Instead, Jesus invites them and us to see the kingdom of God being birthed in their lives – and in ours. It’s a long pregnancy. Two thousand plus years and God is still at work birthing into being God’s kingdom in you and in me.

Jesus says, “these are only birthing pangs.”  Birthing pangs are not to be under-estimated. They can be excruciatingly painful. I remember. And mine were fairly routine deliveries.  (It’s a miracle that there are second-born children these days.)

But just as the pain that is endured in giving birth is overshadowed by the joy of bringing new life into the world, so too, Jesus reminds us that despite the pain we experience in our lives, God is loves us, cares for us, and continues to birth new life in us.  

From our very first breath to our last, and every breath in-between, God will not abandon us. That’s a promise.

But sometimes – when we are focused on the pain around or in us – that is easy to forget. And so I want to teach you a little spiritual exercise that you can do at those times when you are overwhelmed by the pain of the day or frankly have just listened to the news. It’s really simple – you can all do it.

I’m going to ask you to take a big breath in - and hold it for a little bit and then slowly let it out…Try to breathe in your nose and out your mouth – but in this cold and flu season – any breath is a good one. So…let’s try it together… and this time… as you breathe in, I want you to be thinking of the love of God, and the promises of God given for you… and as you breath out… I want you to breathe out  - entrust to God’s care -- all of the bad news, the injustice… the hurts that you have felt and the things that you have done or said that has caused pain in someone else. It may take more than one breath to accomplish all of that. But once it is out, it is not yours to carry around anymore – so receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. This is the hardest step – remembering that you have given the pain away to God’s care.

And now… I want you to do it one more time. Breathe in God’s love and promises – hold them for a moment – but this time you have gotten rid of all of the bad stuff that you have been carrying around and so now I invite you to breathe out grace and love and forgiveness for your neighbor. Let God’s grace be birthed in and through you.

This is a simple exercise: Breathe in God’s love and promises, hold them inside of you for a moment, and then breathe out, the first time to give to God’s care all of the pain of this world and this life that you carry – and the second time to breathe out grace and love to and for your neighbor.  You can do this any where and any time.

But even if you choose not to do this as a Spiritual exercise, be reminded that you do this every day, anywhere from 12 to 60 times a minute depending on your age, size and health. Babies breathe 30 to 60 times a minute, filling their lungs with God’s gift of life and breath. Adult lungs can hold a lot more – so we don’t breathe as often. Perhaps this is why it can be helpful to be reminded of the gift we receive with each breath.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, the things of this world may tumble and fall and people like us continue to sin and hurt one another  – but the Holy Spirit continues to breathe new life into you and me and God’s presence, love and grace are with us – always– no matter what. That’s God’s covenant to you and it’s a promise you can count on. Amen.

never abandon us but  

For while the stone structures of humanity will tumble and fall, God will always love and care for us. God will not abandon us. We are called to live in faith and to trust in the word of promise God has bestowed upon us--the gift of grace given to us through Jesus Christ.

Hope in the Midst of Change and Anxiety: Dare to hope…

Provoke One Another to Love and Good Deeds

Paradise – a dreams burned…

War… countries

Our country divided….

Is this a sign of the end times?

Birth Pangs…  Hope in the midst of

Hold fast to hope…

What lasts?

Stories of hope and rebirth….

  • Woman who came by devastated..

  • Hospital room…

  • Week of Hope…

Christians dare to hope because of God’s promises given  to you…

Paradise. What do you think Paradise looks like?

At times like these, people often

Jesus’ focus is on the long game…

Mark 13:1-8 (Click to view Bible text below.)

The point of this reading from Mark is not to predict the precise timing of the end of the world, even though some might be tempted to read it as such. This passage is not so much about what is to come, but about what is actually happening around Jesus' disciples.

During the 2,000 years since the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the temple has been destroyed and the Roman Empire has fallen. There have been earthquakes and famines, but humanity continues to thrive upon the earth. Jesus' words invite us then to think not so much about rulers and kingdoms on earth, but about the kingdom of God. The stone structures of humanity may tumble and fall, but God will always love and care for us. God will not abandon us. We are called to live in faith and to trust in the word of promise God has bestowed upon us--the gift of grace given to us through Jesus Christ.

Lord, the world may seem to be coming to an end because of the carelessness of humanity, but we will hold fast to your covenants and the gift of grace given to us, through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hebrews 10:11-14, [15-18], 19-25

11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, "he sat down at the right hand of God," 13 and since then has been waiting "until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet." 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, 16 "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds," 17 he also adds, "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more." 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. 

19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Children’s sermon: The writer of Hebrews reminds us of the promise God made to the God’s people – who, because of Jesus, now includes us. God’s covenant – God’s promise is to not only write God’s law on our hearts and minds but also to forgive us. Why? Because God loves us.

  1. AP News  November 17, 2018

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Blessed to Give

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Blessed to Give

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

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

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

We give out of our abundance.

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

Sometimes it is really really fun to give!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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All Saints Sunday - The Last Word

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All Saints Sunday - The Last Word

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

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

The Last Word… not death but LIFE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

All Saints Sunday - November 4, 2018


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Reformation Sunday - Freed to See, Love & Serve

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Reformation Sunday - Freed to See, Love & Serve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

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



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75th Anniversary: Faith Lights Our Journey

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75th Anniversary: Faith Lights Our Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMEN.

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Beloved Child of God

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Beloved Child of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s sermon;

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

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

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

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Rev. Durk Thompson's Message

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Rev. Durk Thompson's Message

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

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

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

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

I know I do.

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

We struggle just like the disciples struggled.

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

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

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

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

And how often do we do the same thing?

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

And then what do they do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you know what else I believe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember that Jesus’ earliest followers were all Jewish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what Pope Francis said at the time was,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All Are Welcome

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All Are Welcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith Lilac Way

September 22, 2018

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

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