Sunday’s Sermon: Drop It!



  • Some of you have met our dog, Jessi.
    • For those who haven’t had that particular delight yet … describe Jessi –> part German shepherd/part Australian shepherd, ~50 lbs., 7 yrs. old, very sweet dog
    • One of Jessi’s favorite things to do is play fetch.
      • Doesn’t matter what she’s “fetching” – stick, toy, ball
      • Entertaining BUT – one annoying habit when she plays = struggle to actually drop object in question
        • Describe way she tries to drop it
          • Rolls around in her mouth
          • Half-drop just to snatch it back up again
          • It’s almost like she can’t decide whether or not to drop the ball. Or that she’s so worried that someone (or something!) else will snatch it that she can’t bring herself to part with it. Crazy dog.
        • Biggest downside to this method of “playing fetch” = how sloppy and drooly “fetch item” becomes –> Because of that indecision and anxiety, Jessi sort of ends up ruining the game of fetch for herself.
          • Not many people want to play very long with a soaking wet tennis ball – loses playmates
          • Can’t tolerate the anxiety for long – only makes it a few throws before she goes off and lays down somewhere else to protect her toy
    • And you know, sometimes I think our approach to God’s call is a lot like the way Jessi plays fetch. We hear God’s call, and we want to follow it … but we have trouble letting go of the things that hold us back.
      • Held back because of indecision
        • Should we or shouldn’t we?
        • When should we?
        • How should we?
      • Held back because of anxiety
        • How exactly is following going to fit into neat-and-tidy 5-year … 10-year … 20-year plan for our lives?
        • What will following do to our relationships? Careers? Finances?
    • And sometimes, like Jessi, we need guidance. We need someone to tell us to “drop it!” That’s the part that our Scriptures play for us this morning.
  • Gospel readinghear the call: As [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” … As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.[1]
    • Notice how simple that call is in and of itself. “Follow.” “Come.” –> simplicity masks radical nature of this call
      • Historian: Rabbis did not seek out students, but were sought out by applicants. Here, all the initiative is with Jesus … Jesus comes to [the brothers]; they do not come to him. He sees them; they do not see him. He speaks; they do not.[2] –> Even at this – the very beginning of his ministry – Jesus is bucking tradition.
    • Also see immediacy of the call in this story – responses of both pairs of brothers in the text: Immediately, [Simon and Andrew] left their nets and followed him. … Immediately [James and John] left the boat and their father, and followed him.[3] –> We’re given no hint of hesitation or apprehension. They heard. They followed. At this point, don’t you just wish you could hear Jesus’ voice in this story? I can only imagine the tone – layered with strength, intimacy, invitation, and promise. It must have been to make these grown men respond in this way.
      • Scholar highlights just how abrupt this decision to follow is: These men have never seen Jesus before, have seen no miracles, heard no teachings. No explanation has been given them. They are not told why they should follow Jesus, what following him will mean, or where the path will lead them. We are met here with Jesus’ first miracle, the miracle of his powerful word that creates following, that makes disciples.[4]
      • See how utter and whole-hearted their response is in Gr. – their leaving, when text says “left” (nets, boats, father) = connotations of utter disconnection, abandon –> This response is serious. It’s intense. And what we find so baffling is how instantaneous it is! Imagine what that must have been like for Simon, Andrew, James, and John. There they were in their boats, doing exactly what they did every day – fishing and minding their own business. Then, out of the blue, this stranger called to them from the shore: “Come! Follow!” And they just dropped what they were doing and went!
  • Now, I don’t know about you, but a response like this raises a bit of anxiety within me!
    • I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I’m type A. I’m a planner. I like my lists. I like knowing what my options are, having contingency plans, being as prepared as possible.
      • E.g. – how I pack when we’re going somewhere
        • Picture of Peter’s bag vs. my bag for NC trip (see above!)
        • 10 times worse with the boys now – can’t go anywhere without at least 3 different bags!
    • I can’t help but wonder what was going through the minds of these fishermen as they dropped everything and followed. Weren’t they worried? Weren’t they afraid? Weren’t they apprehensive? Weren’t they concerned about the lives they were leaving behind?
      • Scholar: The fishermen are already at work, already doing something useful and important, thus they are not looking for a new life. Jesus’ call does not fill an obvious vacuum or meet an obvious need in their lives, but, like the call of prophets in the Hebrew Bible, it is intrusive and disruptive, calling them away from work and family.[5]
  • Where OT Scripture comes in
    • First, simultaneously acknowledges existence of that fear and the assurance that God is bigger than those fears: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?[6] –> sounds like self-convincing to me – If the psalmist is asking about fear like that, I don’t think he or she is just asking out of the blue. I think that fear already exists.
      • See acknowledgement of apprehension later, too: Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.[7] –> speaks to deep-seated fear: If I drop everything to follow, how will I be provided for?
        • Emotionally –> leaving support network behind
        • Physically –> leaving source of earning living behind
        • Heb. also touches on root of that anxiety – day of “trouble” = evil, misery, disaster, harm, illness –> Basically, the Hebrew word that’s translated as “trouble” covers anything and everything unpleasant. When we’re not sure what’s going to happen, sometimes our minds go a little crazy.
          • Play out all the different unpleasant scenarios – all the ways what we’re doing/planning could go wrong
          • And more often than not, isn’t it this fear of the unknown that keeps us from following? It’s like Jessi’s inability to drop that slobbery ball. When she drops it part of the way and then immediately scoops it up again, she’s unable or unwilling to trust that things will work out. What if the ball is never thrown again? What if it disappears? What if she never has any fun every again? Sure, questions like this sound ridiculous when we say them in the context of a dog’s thoughts about a ball … but are they that much more founded when we say them ourselves?
            • What if God doesn’t catch me?
            • What if God doesn’t know what’s going on?
            • What if … what if … what if?
            • Scholar: That things go badly is well established. That things might go badly is the well-spring of worry. … The trouble we face today is compounded by the uncertainty of tomorrow.[8]
    • Surely the first disciples that Jesus called that day on the beaches of the Sea of Galilee had questions of some sort. And yet, they followed. For this reason, I can hear rest of this morning’s psalm being the fishermen’s prayer.
      • Clearly hear desire to heed call – text: “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.[9]
      • Also hear reassurance in face of all those fearful questions – text: [God] will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me … I will sing and make melody to the Lord.[10] –> Praise, rejoicing, and reassurance in the face of fear.
  • Now, that’s all well and good for the disciples who lived thousands of years ago and had Jesus right there in front of them. But what about us? What does this sort of radical, drop-everything following look like for us?
    • Sometimes difficult to discern
      • E.g.: searching for a call – somewhere Peter and I would both be able to practice our vocations à It would’ve been easy for either one of us to say, “I’ve got a job here, so you have to come with me.” But we had to drop our anxieties and worries and follow God … even if that following sometimes meant standing still and waiting.
    • Main element of radical, drop-everything following = making faith the priority
      • Not just something we do now and again
      • Not just something that takes up a few hours Sunday mornings
      • THE priority. Is it what we measure our lives against? Do we make our decisions based on our faith? Do we use our time based on our faith? Does our faith affect everything we do, everything we say, every choice we make?
        • Difficult to drop the things that get in the way sometimes
          • Faith priority vs. society’s priorities
            • E.g.: encroachment of other Sunday morning events
    • And we also have to think about what this kind of radical following looks like in the church. As a congregation, what are we hanging on to out of anxiety? Where and how is God calling us to follow? Like the psalmist, can we set aside our fear and step out rejoicing instead?
  • Rodger Nishioka’s story – Wild Kingdom
    • Only time they could watch TV during dinner – “Wild Kingdom” (dad’s favorite) –> episode with elephant seals in Argentina –> mother and newborn baby seal get separated on beach –> Rodger worried they’d never find each other –> narrator explains mother/baby imprinting on each other at birth
      • Rodger: This fascinated me, especially when Dad turned to me and said, “You know, that’s how it is with God. We are imprinted with a memory of God, and God is imprinted with a memory of us, and even if it takes a lifetime, we will find each other.”[11]
    • That morning on the beach, it was that kind of voice – that kind of call – that Simon, Andrew, James, and John heard. They heard a call that resonated deep in their souls. They heard a call that was so inspiring, so compelling that they just had to drop everything and follow. There wasn’t anything special about the words that were said. There was no grand plan laid out to convince them to go. The power … the pull … the miracle lay solely in the one issuing the call – the same call that is issued to us today. And Jesus said, “Follow me.” Amen.

[1] Mt 4:18-29, 21.

[2] M. Eugene Boring. “The Gospel of Matthew: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 8. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 169.

[3] Mt 4:20, 22 (emphasis added).

[4] Boring, 169.

[5] Boring, 171.

[6] Ps 27:1.

[7] Ps 27:9.

[8] Andrew Nagy-Benson. “Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Psalm 27:1, 4-9 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 273.

[9] Ps 27:8.

[10] Ps 27:5-6.

[11] Rodger Nishioka. “Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Matthew 4:12-23 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 284, 286.

Sunday’s Sermon: What Does Unity Look Like?

  • The year was 1971. More than a decade had gone by since Rosa Park refused to give up her seat and the Little Rock Nine made their historic entrance into Central High School. In contrast, it had only been a few short years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Needless to say, racial tensions throughout America – particularly in the south – were still running high. As a new school year approached at a newly-integrated high school in Alexandria, Virginia, the football team gathered for practice … but it didn’t look anything like the teams in previous years.
    • Sound like the backdrop for a movie? It is: Remember the Titans – Disney production, 2000
      • Film depicting what it was like for students dealing with racial integration during the throes of the civil rights era
      • Basic storyline – beginning: two high schools in Alexandria forced to integrate –> started with school board forcing integrated leadership (black head coach, white assistant head coach, etc.) –> tension that the whole country was feeling plays out first on football team –> practices full of …
        • Stubbornness
        • Thinly-veiled remarks
        • Open challenges
        • Fights
        • If ever there was a team in need of unity – in need of something to bring them together as a cohesive unit – it was the Titans football team.
          • Needed something to unite them
          • Needed something they could believe in together
          • Needed something bigger than their differences to form them into the single body they needed to be
          • Hmm … sound a little like the Church today?
            • Church universal – “Church” with a capital C – all the believers in Christ around the world
            • Seem to have found ourselves in a time of …
              • Divisions
              • Theological accusations
              • Building ecumenical walls instead of ecumenical bridges
            • And yet yesterday was the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Think about that … the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – an entire week dedicated to praying not for the things that pull us apart but the things that bring us together; an entire week dedicated to lifting up our shared story instead of our individual plot lines; an entire week dedicated to praying for our neighbors, be they easy to get along with or not-so-easy. Because let’s face it: like the Titans, as Christians, we are a body in need of unifying. We need something we can believe in together. We need something bigger than our differences to encourage us to be the body of Christ. But what could that unity look like?
  • First element of unity = radical inclusiveness
    • In “Remember the Titans,” radical inclusiveness was forced upon the players by their coaches.
      • Made to ride buses together –> instead of white/black buses, defense/offense buses
      • Made to room with people of different race
      • Made to treat each other with respect (at least on the field)
    • But in the church, there’s no coach to force us together. We don’t have anyone to put us in a room with those with whom we struggle – those we disagree with, those we don’t understand, even those whom we fear. We must make that critical leap of faith all on our own.
      • Mk passage emphasizes importance of genuinely welcoming “the other” with radical inclusiveness – text: Then [Jesus] took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he 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.”[1]
        • Today: not so hard for us to grasp the concept of welcoming a child – taking them into our arms, holding them close, comforting them, teaching them, loving them –> But it’s important that we understand just what a radical move this is for Jesus.
          • Ancient view of children = vastly different than our view today
            • Scholar: The child in antiquity was a non-person. Children should have been with the women, not hanging around the teacher and his students. … To insist that receiving a child might have some value for male disciples is almost inconceivable.[2]
            • Gr. reveals tenderness with which Jesus enacts this radical inclusiveness – “taking it in his arms” = literally hugging –> So not only does Jesus welcome this child – this unwelcomed one – but he also shows us that genuinely welcoming someone involves more than just a superficial “hello.” Welcoming involves compassion. It involves a willingness to connect. It involves acceptance.
  • Another element: focusing on our commonalities instead of our differences
    • Gridlock in Washington D.C. and state capitols around the country –> politicians focusing so closely on differences that they’ve forgotten how to work together
    • And for some reason, we’ve often functioned like this in the church, too. –> differences pulling the church apart for centuries
      • Began with Great Schism in 1054 – created Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church
      • Today: 33,000+ denominations throughout the world –> We have a disagreement, we start to butt heads, and instead of focusing on our commonalities and working things out, we splinter off. We go our own way. We, like society take the popular attitude of “If you’re not with me, you’re against me.
    • But in our gospel reading for this morning, Jesus flips that contentious mindset on its head.
      • After scene with the child – disciples are upset because someone else is casting out demons in Jesus’ name
        • Reason they’re upset: he’s not following the way they are – his faith doesn’t look/sound/act like their faith
        • Text: John said to [Jesus], “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”[3] – feel John waiting for validation
          • Jesus response: Do not stop him … Whoever is not against us is for us.[4] –> Whoever is not against us is for us. Radical inclusiveness. Focusing on the commonalities while setting aside the differences. Unity.
          • Scholar: Unlike the scribes and the Pharisees, Jesus seeks to draw the boundaries between those who are “with Jesus” to include as many people as possible. He came for sinners, not for the righteous. The disciples fall into the trap that snares many religious groups: They wanted to restrict salvation to their group alone.[5]
  • Important element to recognize: unity in challenge strengthens faith
    • In “Remember the Titans,” the football team soon learns that their diversity is one of their greatest strengths.
      • Form strong bonds as a team
        • Lead them to win every game
        • More importantly: lead the way for racial integration within their school and within their community
    • And when it comes to our faith, we can also find strength in our differences.
      • Passage from Prov.: Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.[6] –> You see, when we find ourselves needing to explain our faith – why we believe what we believe, how we understand our role as a child of God, the ways in which we practice our faith and why we do things the way we do … When we find ourselves needing to explain these things to someone, it makes us actually think about them! We have to figure out why we believe what we believe. We have to come to our own understanding of our role as a child of God. We have to scrutinize our faith practices in light of our own belief system to see if they hold water.
        • E.g. – some of my greatest friends from seminary fall on completely opposite side of the fence that I do on most issues –> But our differing opinions gave us grounds for some truly holy, passionate, and compassionate conversations, both in the classroom and outside it. Did we change one another’s minds? No. But we came to a better understanding of body of Christ as a whole.
          • Understand the “other” better
          • Understand ourselves better, too
    • And when we work together toward Christian unity, we get the opportunity to strengthen and grow in our faith.
      • Difference between Christian unity and Christian uniformity – not talking about all of us having to believe exactly the same thing (theologically, politically, socially, etc.)
      • Difference between Christian unity and relativism – not talking about what each of us believe not mattering to the other person
      • Talking about coming together in community and working together for God despite our differences –> scholar: Paul’s relationship to other believers and his thankfulness to God for them is based not on whether he likes them or on whether they view issues in the world in the same way, but on the simple and profound fact that God’s grace is active in them and in him. Our modern Christian community is founded on God’s grace given to all, not on whether we are socially compatible and not on whether we take the same political views.[7]
  • Leads to final critical element –> shared central goal of following Christ
    • The Titans football team had a simple shared goal: winning the championship. And as brothers and sisters in Christ, our goal is not so complex either: Follow Jesus.
      • Lots of things about the way we do this may look different
        • Way we worship
        • Way we share
        • And differences of interpretation are always going to exist. But when we pray for Christian unity, when we work toward Christian unity – be it in our own communities, in this nation, or within the whole world – we are placing God at the head of our lives. We are making our faith the central factor that affects anything and everything else that we do and say.
      • This is Paul’s plea in today’s passage: Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.[8] –> Our ways in which we worship may differ, but aren’t we all praising God? Our ways in which we pray may differ, but aren’t we all entrusting our joys and thanksgivings, our fears and failings to God?
        • Different because of our upbringing
        • Different because of our ethnicity
        • Different because of our political views
        • Different because of a million other factors that make up our day-to-day lives
        • But that central trust in God, that central belief in the grace of Jesus Christ, that central reliance on the guidance of the Holy Spirit is the same.
  • And so, in the face of this, I’m going to leave you with some questions this morning, questions that could be especially appropriate on the morning of our annual meeting:
    • What could Christian unity mean or look like here in Zumbrota?
    • What could Christian unity mean or look like across the United States?
    • What could Christian unity mean or look like throughout the world? Amen.

[1] Mk 9:36-37.

[2] Pheme Perkins. “The Gospel of Mark: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 8. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 637 (emphasis added).

[3] Mk 9:38.

[4] Mk 9:39, 40.

[5] Perkins, 639.

[6] Prov 27:17.

[7] J. Paul Sampley. “The First Letter to the Corinthians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 10. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002), 800.

[8] 1 Cor 1:10.



As part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we also shared an Ecumenical Prayer Cycle handout in our bulletins on Sunday. This list will allow you to pray for every country around the world throughout the whole year. We may be a few weeks behind at this point, but it’s an intriguing idea – to literally pray for the whole world. Here’s the link to that Ecumenical Prayer Cycle.

Sunday’s sermon: Of Water and Light … and Faith

  • One of my favorite things to do is watch water and light play together. Think about it for a minute. Isn’t it just beautiful when they come together? It’s almost as if water becomes alive when there’s light playing off of it. It can be truly breathtaking. Picture …
    • Light dancing and sparkling on surface of a lake – captivating, always shifting and changing, jumping from place to place
    • Shafts of light streaming down through water – transparent and delicate and frozen in time
    • Rainbow – drops of water interacting with light to create something vivid and striking yet fleeting
    • Today, we find ourselves at a captivating intersection in the life of the church.
      • You see, January 6, this past Monday, was Epiphany – the day dedicated to honoring the magi being drawn to the manger of the Christ-child –> event marked by the light
      • Today, we remember the baptism of Jesus –> event marked by water
      • So we’re going to immerse ourselves in light and water today. We’re going to let this light and these waters remind us of how beautiful and powerful our faith can be. And we’re going to explore the link between the illumination and the call to action – the way in which the light of the gospel is magnified by the waters of baptism.
  • So let’s start by taking a look at the light.
    • Light = viewed as sign of divine action for thousands of years
      • Biblical historians: Light is the most general and most adequate manifestation of divine operation in a world which, apart from it, is darkness and chaos. … Light is therefore the essence of all the gifts through which God has blessed creation.[1]
        • Not difficult to understand this ancient association between light and divine
          • Without light, where would we be? Stumbling blindly through the darkness, unsure of our path, unsure of the obstacles in our way or how to overcome them, unsure of our place in the world.
          • Without God, where would we be? Stumbling blindly through the chaos of our lives, unsure of our path, unsure of the obstacles in our way or how to overcome them, unsure of our place in the world.
    • It’s also no secret that light has tickled the imagination of countless artists, poets, scientists, and authors throughout the centuries.
      • My science-teacher husband: 4 different scientific theories attempting to explain light alone
        • What it is, how it travels, etc.
        • All correct in their own way but none can explain it all
      • Literary e.g. of meaning wrapped up in light/darkness – C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce: In this theological novel, Lewis uses light and varying degrees of darkness to differentiate between heaven and hell.
        • Synopsis: The [unnamed central character], in a dream, boards a bus on a drizzly afternoon and embarks on an incredible voyage through Heaven and Hell. He meets a host of supernatural beings … and comes to significant realizations about the ultimate consequences of everyday behavior. This is the starting point for the ultimate meditation upon good and evil.[2]
        • More pointed description of the significance of light and darkness: The ‘grey town’ (Hell) is pervaded by a misty twilight that will someday turn to utter darkness. Heaven, on the other hand, [what Lewis calls the High Country], is filled with light, light that apparently increases as its inhabitants go further up and further in.[3] –> So basically, in Lewis’ imagination at least, the closer you are to God, the lighter and brighter your existence is.
    • Hear this sentiment in Isaiah passage for this morning – speaks of God’s light for the people
      • Announces the coming of the light: Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.[4]
        • Isaiah is talking about anticipated Messiah –> The light of the star that led the magi to the Christ-child was simply a prelude to the light that Christ would be for the world – a light that would continue to draw people to faith.
          • Scholar: The light is now permanently present in Jesus Christ and in the gospel, through which the operation of [God’s] light is continued.[5]
    • But we have a problem. As we well know, Christ didn’t remain on earth forever. He was only here for a short time before he was crucified, resurrected, and taken back up into heaven to rejoin God. So how can the light continue?
  • This is where the water comes in. Our gospel story for today shows us how to be party to this light: through the waters of baptism.
    • Water also been a powerful symbol of faith throughout centuries
      • Biblical historians: Water could be a symbol of [God’s] salvation.[6]
        • E.g. – earlier in Isaiah: With joy, you will draw water from the wells of salvation.[7]
    • And in the baptism of Jesus Christ, we witness the Light enlivening the water in a whole new way – text: And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”[8]
      • Worship resource applies concept to us: By water and the Holy Spirit, we are made members of the church, the body of Christ, and joined to Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice.[9] –> In our own baptism, we are adopted into the body of Christ – this family of God – and through these waters, the Light of Christ is given to us.
        • This giving of the light can actually be a part of the baptism service. We did it with the boys.
          • Christ candle = lit at beginning of service –> smaller candle (or two!) unlit –> light smaller candles from Christ candle –> pass candle to person being baptized or to parents/sponsors/etc.
          • Pastor: Receive the light of Christ; you have passed from darkness to light.
          • Congregation: You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as children of the light.
      • Scholar: The New Testament emphasizes that the believers, or the whole people of God, are ‘[children] of light.’ They have been so cleansed and transformed by the power of the heavenly light that they are the ‘light of the world.’[10]
      • In Lewis’ The Great Divorce, everything about heaven is suffused with light – the grass, the water, even the people. And through the waters of baptism, our own lives become like Lewis’ High Country – suffused with a holy light that has the power to banish the darkness and the shadows by the warmth and radiance of God’s love.
  • And it is our responsibility and our joy to share that light – to respond to God’s powerful illumination with action.
    • See significance of our participation in this Light in gospel of John: Again Jesus spoke to [the crowd] saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”[11]  –> The Light of Life is there for us, but we have to make that move to follow. The illumination from this wondrous light must inspire action in us.
    • Isaiah also alludes to the link between the illumination and the call to action. Directly following the coming of the light, the people of God react. – text: Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. … They all gather together, they come to you … They shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.[12]
      • Scholar speaks to this relationship: As a result of the reciprocal relationship between the light and [people], the recipient of the light becomes a light. [The recipient] shines both outwardly and inwardly, having been made wise by God’s light.[13]
        • Familiar tune: This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine![14]
    • Is text also indicates the affect our response has on Giver of the Light – Is speaking to God: Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.[15]
      • Heb “rejoice” = open your heart, make your heart wide
      • So God reacts with open-hearted joy both when we ourselves are welcomed into the family of believers and when, by sharing the gospel message, we help others to find their way into this same family of love and forgiveness and light.
  • Imagine watching the sun rise over a lake. You’re sitting on the end of the dock. The grey water in front of you is rippling softly.
    • Sky to the east begins to lighten
    • First few dazzling sun rays begin to seep over horizon
    • Soft golds and pinks, oranges and purples begin to spread across water
    • Lake seems to be on fire – presence of the light brings water to life!
      • Notice: light doesn’t hit water all at the same time – spreads from one end to the other
      • Through the waters of baptism, Christ brings a light even more dazzling and even more captivating than this into our lives – the light of forgiveness and love and belonging. And it’s our job to continue to spread that light. On this unique day in the life of the church – this day in which we can remember both the coming of the Light and the sacred beauty of baptism – let us follow that light out into the world – seeking God’s face, sharing God’s grace, and spreading God’s light with all our hearts. Amen.

[1] “Light” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 3. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1962), 130.

[2] Description from back cover of book. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 2001).

[3] “Factotum: Spotlights of a mom with her hand in many pots” blog, Post written 15 Jan. 2007, post accessed 4 Jan. 2012.

[4] Is 60:1-2.

[5] “Light,” 132.

[6] “Water” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1962), 807.

[7] Is 12:3.

[8] Mk 1:10-11.

[9] “The Sacrament of Baptism” in The Book of Common Worship. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 405.

[10] “Light,” 131, 132.

[11] Jn 8:12 (emphasis added).

[12] Is 60:3, 4b, 6.

[13] “Light,” 132.

[14] Harry Dixon Loes, “This Little Light of Mine,” circa 1920.

[15] Is 60:5.

Finding God …


There’s a funny thing about having a blog (and actually keeping up with it this time!) – it’s actually got me looking at things differently. It’s a little bit strange. I look at things and wonder, “Hmm … could I blog about that? How could I turn that into a post? What could I write about that?”

And do you what I’ve discovered?

You can find God anywhere. In anything. In everything. 


It’s pretty amazing. You may be thinking to yourself, “Lisa, you’re a pastor. Shouldn’t you know this already?” Okay, in my head, I knew that people always said, “You can see God in everything!” But I’ll also be the first to admit that life gets busy.

When you’re in seminary learning everything you’re supposed to learn to become a pastor, you’re focused on the paper you’re supposed to be writing and the sermon you’re supposed to be composing for class and the zillion pages you’re supposed to be reading and the applications/forms you’re supposed to be filling out for whatever denominational committee is overseeing your ordination journey. You barely have time to do something as essential as stopping to tie your own shoe, let alone stopping to smell the roses. (Maybe others had different seminary experiences. If they did, I heartily congratulate them. But that’s what seminary felt like to me.) And …

And …

And …

When you’re looking for a call to a church (or churches!), you’re so focused on searching through church profiles and reading and re-reading through your own profile to make sure it sounds like you and worrying about where God will call you and whether God will call you and how you’re going to get there. And …

And …

And …

When you’re a new parent, you’re both focused and completely unfocused at the same time. You’re focused on the little things like whether or not their toenails are growing right and you’re focused on the big things like whether or not they seem to be developing like the should – mentally, physically, socially, etc. You’re focused on getting them fed and keeping them happy and getting them to sleep and keeping them asleep! And at the same time, you’re so blasted tired that you’re completely unfocused at the same time. What day is it? When was that bill due? Who am I? What planet is this? And …

And …

And …

Okay, you get the picture. Life gets busy. Life gets hectic. I know this isn’t just a seminary/pastor/new parent thing. It’s a general-state-of-life-in-our-culture thing. And even though we tell ourselves we can find God in everything, we often forget to stop and actually look. 

I guess that’s what this blog has encouraged me to do – to stop and actually look for God in all those silly small things: in the snowflakes and the flickering of the candle and the baby food and the frost on the window and the way my baby boys smile when they sleep and the way the people in the congregations I serve love and care for one another. And …

And …

And …

Catching up a bit …


Perhaps you’ve been wondering where we’ve been for the past few Sundays??

Well, last year, we started something of a tradition in our congregations. On the last Sunday of the year, instead of a “regular” service with a sermon and whatnot, we spend time reflecting on where we’ve seen God in the past year and where we hope to see God in the year to come. This reflection is encouraged by various Scripture readings, hymns, and unison prayers, and during the service, people are given the opportunity to come up to the front, light a candle, and share where they’ve seen God or where they hope to find God.

It’s a service that many people find both meaningful and introspective. The following are the readings and prayers used during that service:

Meditation for the New Year

Resurrection never feels like being made clean and nice and pious. … God was never about making me spiffy; God was about making me new.  … New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing we never saw coming – never even hoped for – but ends up being what we needed all along. ~ Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix

* Call to Worship

One: This is the place,

Many: The place where God is joyfully worshipped.

One: This is the time,

Many: The time we know that God is with us in the coming year.

One: These are the friends,

Many: The friends who celebrate with us and stay with us when the testing comes.

One: This is the faith,

ALL: The faith in Jesus Christ, which challenges us and shapes our future.

* Call to Reconciliation

* Prayer of Reconciliation

The year is fast ending, O God, and we seek a new beginning. Gracefully grant us the gift of careful reflection. Where we have harbored bitterness, give us the ability to put into words our deepest feelings. Where we have nursed grudges, give us the strength to let them go. Where we have lacked the courage of our convictions, give us the ability to stand up and be counted. Where we have failed to work with others in community, give us the sense of joy in a common cause. Where we have questioned our life of faith, give us the insight to turn doubts into fresh commitment. Remind us that your grace is sufficient for us, O God. And as we look to a new year, gracefully grant us a new vision. Amen.

* Words of Assurance

* Passing the Peace of Christ

* Song of Peace – Let There Be Peace on Earth (back of the hymnal)

God WAS ~ Remembering Where We’ve Been

Scripture                                                               Psalm 138

Time of Remembering – Where was God in your year?

Please feel free to come forward and share with the congregation anywhere you’ve seen or felt God’s presence in your life or the lives of loved ones over the past year. This is a time to celebrate where God has been with us – the joys as well as the sorrows. With each remembrance, we will light a candle.

Scripture                                                 Eccelsiastes 3:9-15

Prayer – unison

We ask, O God, for the grace to be our best selves. We as for the vision to be builders of the human community rather than its destroyers. We ask for the heart it takes to care for all peoples as well as for ourselves. For you, O God, have been merciful to us. You, O God, have been patient with us. You, O God, have been gracious to us. And so may we be merciful, patient, gracious, and trusting with others whom you also love. This we ask through Jesus. This we ask forever and ever. Amen.

God WILL BE ~ Looking Ahead in Hope

Scripture                                                        Mark 13:28-37

Time of Anticipation – What are your hopes for the new year?

Please feel free to come forward and share with the congregation what your hopes and prayers are for the coming year. Where do you anticipate needing or seeing God in the days, weeks, and months to come? Again, with each account, we will light a candle.

Scripture                                                         John 14:18-27

Prayer (from Pax Christi USA) – unison

Come Spirit of God, grant us the power to be gentle, the strength to be forgiving, the patience to be understanding, and the endurance to accept the consequences of holding on to what is right. Come Spirit of God, help us to put our trust in the power of good to overcome evil, the power of love to overcome hatred. Come Spirit of wisdom and love, Source of all good, teach us your truth and guide our actions in your way of peace. Amen.

So … that was Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.

What about last Sunday?

Well, it was so darn stinkin’ cold that we decided to cancel worship for both congregations. Since we have a number of members who are older and a number of members who drive in from various distances, we thought it would be safer for everyone if we just stayed home and stayed warm.

Hopefully, you and your loved ones had a blessed Christmas and a safe and happy new year!