October 2016 newsletter piece

fall-leaves

We find ourselves once again in the fall. The leaves are beginning to change colors. It’s (finally!) cool enough at night to leave windows open. We can leave the house dressed in 5 layers in the morning and come back in the evening having shed 4 of those layers. And pumpkin spice seems to have invaded EVERYTHING (though why, I’m not really sure).

As I’ve been thinking about the world around us during this season, I’ve noticed something interesting. During the fall, all the plants and flora around us are dying.

We’re putting our gardens to bed for the winter – pruning things back, digging up bulbs (and maybe even planting others in hopes that they will lie dormant until their beautiful emergence in the spring), covering various shrubs and bushes, and spreading straw over the beds to protect them over the winter and nourish them again in the spring.

In the fields around us, the corn and soybeans are necessarily drying out – essentially dying – in order to prepare for the harvest.

As we watch the beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows pervade the treetops around us, we know that those colors signify the leaves dying – one final, stunning flare before falling to the ground and waiting for our vigorous (and sometimes reluctant) rakes.

The grass around us that has been so lush and green throughout the spring and summer is beginning to brown, from our own lawns to the tall prairie grasses lining the ditches along the highways.

And yet, in the midst of all this fading glory, our schedules are ramping up again.

School has begun again with all the associated hustle and bustle: homework, field trips, extracurricular activities, conferences, Homecomings, and so on.

Many other groups are resuming after taking a summer hiatus – various clubs and social groups like the Readers of OZ. Welcome back!

And our church activities are picking up again – Sunday school, confirmation, the Dorothy Day dinner, luncheons, and so on. We have some big events and fundraisers right around the corner – another Chocolate Affaire at Oronoco and another Country Store at Zumbrota.

I’m finding a very theological juxtaposition in all of this – nature laying down and the busyness of our lives picking up, nature slowing down and the busyness of our lives ramping up, nature dying and the busyness of our lives reviving. There is death and resurrection in this. There is old life and new life in this.

Paul speaks to this kind of juxtaposition in his letter to the Christians in Rome:

A person who has died has been freed from sin’s power. But if we died with Christ, we have faith that we will also live with him. We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him. He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life. In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.
~ Romans 6:7-11 ~

We know that death is a part of life. It’s a cyclical part of the world around us – the turning of the seasons from one to the next – and it’s a part of the span of our days, our time here on this earth. But because of God’s grace and because of Christ’s death and resurrection, the assumed finality of death is no more. There is life – activity, vitality, light and hope – even in the face of death. It’s like it says in one of our favorite hymns:

In our end is our beginning;
In our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing;
In our life, eternity;
In our death, a resurrection;
At the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season,
Something God alone can see.”
~ “In the Bulb There is a Flower,” verse 3
Natalie Sleeth, #433 in the New Century Hymnal

Pastor Lisa sign

 

Sunday’s sermon: Movin’ On Up

reaching-out

Texts used – 1 John 3:13-19 and Luke 16:19-31 (read within text of sermon)

  • Jesus tells a lot of great stories throughout the gospels, right?
    • Story of the prodigal son – leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, welcomed home and loved
      • Slight wrinkle = the grouchy older brother → just an element, doesn’t overpower the story
    • Story of the lost sheep – leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, welcomed home and loved
      • Slight wrinkle = requires a little lostness on the part of the sheep and no one likes being lost → But in reality, we know we all get a little lost sometimes. So we can relate.
    • Story of the good Samaritan – leaves you feelings warm and fuzzy, cared for and loved
      • Slight wrinkle (slight?) = the whole being robbed and beaten and left for dead thing → But again, in reality, we know how it feels to be beat up by the world and left behind, right? We don’t like it – it’s not a place where we want to be – but we can indeed relate.
    • So many stories that we love to read
      • Bolster our faith
      • Lift us up
      • Get us through the tough times
  • Yeah … today isn’t really one of those stories. Today’s story is all wrinkle.
    • [READ GOSPEL STORY]
    • This is one of those gospel stories that makes us feel uncomfortable
      • Makes us ask questions we don’t necessarily want to ask about our lives, our actions, our priorities
      • Makes us examine parts of our lives that we’d really rather not have to think about
      • Sheds an entirely different light on the world and culture around us – makes us stop and think → But that’s exactly what these stories of Jesus are supposed to do! They’re supposed to make us pause and consider our lives and the world around us and make changes in ourselves or the world or both.
  • Our culture – American culture – seems more and more to be structured around “bigger and better”
    • Constantly being told by mass media that we need:
      • Bigger and better houses
      • Bigger and better cars
      • Bigger and better toys – boats, utility vehicles, etc.
      • Bigger and better careers
      • Bigger and better selves – newer clothes, higher heels, shinier hair, fewer wrinkles
    • Globalization and countless cable TV shows have taken the notion of “keeping up with the Joneses” to a whole new level
      • See how people not only within our neighborhood and our community but around the world live lush and lavish lifestyles → from “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” with Robin Leach to MTV’s “Cribs” and “Keeping up with the Kardashians” (not something I ever thought I’d say in the context of a sermon, by the way!)
      • And let’s face it, basically all of the shows on the HGTV station make you want to completely gut your home (even if it’s brand new!) just to make it prettier or sleeker or chic-er or whatever.
      • Social media’s contribution to this = powerful → Now, we have the ability to display whatever kind of life we want in pictures. We can portray ourselves and our lives in whatever light we choose because we can post only the pictures that we want to post – only those pictures that make our lives look glamorous, exciting, adventurous, beautiful, put-together and desirable to those on the outside.
    • Dr. Brene Brown
      • Researcher at Univ. of Houston Social Work Dept. – spent the last 13 yrs. studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame
      • Work is incredibly popular right now
        • Wildly popular TED talks on “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Listening to Shame”
          • TED = “non-profit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the format of short, powerful lectures – 18 mins. or less
          • First one (“The Power of Vulnerability” from 2010) is one of the top 5 most popular TED talks of all time with 25 million viewers![1]
        • Books: Rising Strong, Daring Gently, and The Gift of Imperfection – all New York Times #1 Best Sellers
      • Brene Brown calls this “bigger and better” phenomenon the “never enough” problem. She says, “I see the cultural message everywhere that says an ordinary life is a meaningless life.”[2] And in the face of this phenomenon, we try to build ourselves up and up and up by filling our homes and our garages and our lives with more and more stuff because in the eyes of the culture around us, the more we move up in the world, the better off we are.
  • Shocker for the day: that’s NOT what Jesus said
    • Instead, Jesus tells this story of a rich man and a poor man that doesn’t really end well for the rich man: The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side. He shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I’m suffering in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain.’[3]
      • Gospel context: parable told amidst a number of other parables and sayings dealing with things like humility, the cost of discipleship, and the importance of repentance
        • Follows almost directly on the heels of Jesus’ harsh reprimand for the Pharisees: The Pharisees, who were money-lovers, heard all this and sneered at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves before other people, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by people is deeply offensive to God.[4]
    • So in that context, Jesus tells this story. And it’s a story about wealth and privilege, yes, but it’s also a story about the human condition and about reaching out.
      • Rich man doesn’t end up where he does simply because he was rich but because of his actions
        • Issue #1: There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day.[5] → This man is flaunting his wealth. The luxurious feasting part is pretty obvious. How many other, hungry people could have been fed by the food at this man’s daily banquets? But even his clothes are an extravagant display.
          • Linen = finely woven → took great time and energy to produce and was therefore very expensive
          • Purple = expensive dye created using liquid from a species of shellfish → flamboyant and noticeable amidst the duller colors of everyday clothing at the time
        • Issue #2: At [the rich man’s] gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that feel from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores.[6] → The rich man had to have seen Lazarus lying there at his gate. Surely at various points throughout his time at the gate, Lazarus called out to the rich man or his family or his servants asking for food – for just the crumbs from the table, whatever they could spare at the end of their lavish daily feasts. And yet, the rich man gave him nothing.
          • Interesting point: rich man – the one with all the wealth and privilege – doesn’t get a name in Jesus’ story, but the poor man does → ponder for a moment what that might mean in terms of Jesus’ story and the lesson he’s trying to teach
            • Identity = wrapped up in our name
            • Significance = wrapped up in our name
            • And for someone like the rich man, surely there was power and influence and prestige wrapped up in his name. But in this story of Jesus’, all that is stripped away.
    • The rich man doesn’t end up where he does simply because he’s rich. Jesus doesn’t tell us anything about how his money was made or where his wealth came from. The problem arises not in the wealth itself but in the rich man’s unwillingness to use his wealth and privilege to help his fellow human beings. Lazarus called out to him from his own gate – mere steps away from the place where the rich man and his family enjoyed their lavish lifestyle and their lavish feasts – and yet the rich man didn’t lift a finger to help Lazarus.
      • This is where 2nd reading for today comes in: This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care – how can the love of God remain in him? Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with actions and truth. This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence.[7] → Yes, these words from John’s letter were written long after Jesus’ parable, but this sentiment is not new to Scripture. Time and time again throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God charges us with caring for those who are in need.
        • Proverbs: Those who are gracious to the poor lend to the LORD, and the Lord will fully repay them.[8] … Happy are generous people, because they give some of their food to the poor.[9]
        • Moses in Deut: Now if there are some poor persons among you, say one of your fellow Israelites in one of your cities in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, don’t be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward your poor fellow Israelites. To the contrary! Open your hand wide to them. You must generously lend them whatever they need.[10]
        • Isaiah: if you open your heart to the hungry, and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted, your light will shine in the darkness, and your gloom will be like the noon.[11]
        • None of these calls to action are new. They are words that the rich man would have known, which is why we get that interesting end to Jesus’ story: The rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so they don’t come to this place of agony.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them. … If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’[12] → The words are not new. The sentiment is not new. The need is not new nor does it ever go away. There will always be those who have more than others. There will always be those who need a helping hand. And God’s call to action is pretty darn clear: “Care for them. Help people. Share. Do Good.” If you have enough in this lifetime – enough food, enough wealth, enough strength, enough love – that’s great. God isn’t trying to make our lives harder or punish us for value of our homes or the bottom line in our bank accounts. But we need to begin to see that wealth – that “enough” – as a blessing that needs to be shared. Because it is in this sharing that we find the greatest blessing. Amen.

[1] “About” section of Brene Brown’s website: http://www.brenebrown.com/about.

[2] Quoted by Mary Pritchard. “Who Are the Joneses and Why Are We Trying to Keep Up With Them?” on Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-pritchard/keeping-up-with-the-joneses_b_2467957.html. Posted Jan. 14, 2013, update Mar. 16, 2013, accessed Sept. 18, 2016.

[3] Lk 16:22-25.

[4] Lk 16:14-15.

[5] Lk 16:19.

[6] Lk 16:20-21.

[7] 1 Jn 3:16-19.

[8] Prov 19:17.

[9] Prov 22:9.

[10] Deut 15:7-8.

[11] Is 58:10

[12] Lk 16:28-29, 31.

9/11 Remembrance Service

sept-11-remember

This year was the 15th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11, so we devoted our worship service that Sunday to remembering and honoring that day – those who lost their lives that day, the various experiences that we had of that day, and how that day has changed our lives as individuals and as a nation. We also celebrated communion, coming together at God’s table as one body in reverence and in hope.

In addition to the service, we folded white peace cranes in remembrance of the lives lost that day. In each sanctuary, we hung 300 cranes – 1 crane for every 10 lives lost.

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Cranes from the back of the sanctuary at First Congregational Church UCC – Zumbrota

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Cranes close up at First Congregation Church UCC – Zumbrota

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Cranes at The Presbyterian Church of Oronoco

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Cranes from the side at The Presbyterian Church of Oronoco

So here is our service …

 

Letting God In
During this time, we invite you to prepare your heart and your mind for worship. We want you to be able to use this quiet time to settle your thoughts, set aside any distractions that may be troubling you, and focus your whole self on God. Open your heart, your mind, and your spirit, and let God into your life.

Centering Prayer: September 11, 2001
Contemplate that day in our history –
as Americans, as Christians,
as human beings.
Remember how you felt,
what you thought,
and what your gut reactions were that day.
How has this terrible event changed you?

* Gathering Hymn #2128 (Sing the Faith) – Come and Find the Quiet Center

* Litany of Remembrance: (adapted from UMC Discipleship Ministries)
One: We gather fifteen years after the day when politics, religion, and culture clashed in a tragic way. On this anniversary day, we gather to remember the events of September 11, 2001. Let us not forget that we are God’s people journeying towards God’s kingdom. On this day, violence created chaos, destroyed lives, and generated fear. We remember the suffering born in pain. We remember the media images of frightening scenes and of human terror that are forever burned into our consciousness. We remember with confidence born of faith that this is not God’s way.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

 Light 1st candle – 8:45 a.m.
First plane hits north tower

One: On this day, lives were lost, peace was shattered, and hope was endangered. We remember the cries of the people caught amid fire and dust, the families whose loved ones never returned home after that day, the shared mourning of a frightened nation We remember the day when the skies were no longer peaceful, but rather threatened with a vision of fear. We remember with confidence that hope is still God’s way.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

Light 2nd candle – 9:03 a.m.
Second plane hits south tower

One: On this day, strangers became friends, and ordinary people become heroic. We remember courageous men and woman who worked tirelessly to save lives, seek the lost, and heal the wounded. Ours hearts cry out in thanksgiving and in grief for those who rushed headlong into danger and uncertainty to save their fellow human beings – those who placed more value on the lives of others than on their own precious lives.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

Light 3rd candle – 9:45 a.m.
Third plane hits the Pentagon 

One: On this day, we pray for hearts to be softened and for peace to move lives. We remember men and women living in danger far from home and their families who need God’s peace. We remember women, men, and children around the world who live in constant fear and danger. We remember that God loves all the children of the world.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

Light 4th candle – 10:05 a.m.
South tower collapses

One: On this day, we pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. We remember that God’s kingdom is where the last are first, the lost are found, and the weak are made strong. We remember that we are required to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. We remember that we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

Light 5th candle – 10:10 a.m.
Flight 93 crashes in Pennsylvania

One: On this day, we work for the kingdom of God on earth; come to the house of the Lord on the high mountain seeking the way of God. We remember that Love comes from the very heart of God embracing all humanity. We remember that true power is born of humility, obedience, and justice. We remember that God’s grace is a gift that gives life to the world.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

Light 6th candle – 10:28 a.m.
North tower collapses

One: On this day, we remember,

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

One: On this day, we pray.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

One: On this day, we work.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

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Candles at First Congregational Church UCC – Zumbrota

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Candles at The Presbyterian Church of Oronoco

Time of Silence

Scripture reading – Lamentations 3:19-29, read from The Message
19 I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. 20 I remember it all – oh, how well I remember – the feeling of hitting the bottom. 21 But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: 22 God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. 23 They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! 24 I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left. 25 God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. 26 It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. 27 It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times. 28 When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. 29 Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. 

Hymn – Amen (insert)

Hearing the Stories – Cynthia Tumulty-Ollemar

Hymn #2200 (Sing the Faith) – O Lord, Hear My Prayer

Sharing Our Own Stories – a time to share our own stories of our experience and how those experiences have shaped us
         Where were you?
         What do you remember?
         How did this affect you?

Passing of the Peace

* Song of Peace: Let There Be Peace on Earth (back of the NCH)

Reading – “Who Am I?” by Kimberly Dunne
I am no one special.

I’m the little boy that gives up his favorite teddy bear so that a stranger might be comforted.

I’m the single mother who has been trying to teach her child to sleep in their own bed, who holds them tight long into the night, thanking God it wasn’t her child that died.

I’m the old man, angry and resentful that his military doesn’t want him because of his age.

I’m the teenage girl that spends hours cutting ribbons for others to wear as a symbol of remembrance.

I’m the young man who doesn’t understand why his father was running up the stairs as the building fell, trying to save just one more person, instead of saving himself.

I’m the old woman who will never see her grandchild again.

I’m the little girl, playing with her doll, who can’t understand when someone screams hateful things at her because of where her family is from.

I’m the police officer, trying to keep idiotic reporters safe, when his wife is still among the missing.

I’m the fire fighter that called in sick that day, only to discover that someone else died in his place.

I’m the man who survived the falling building only to learn that his sister and baby niece were in the plane.

I’m the secretary, angered by the seemingly callous response of those around her.

I’m a spelunker, who is climbing down into the remains of a building, hoping to find someone still alive.

I’m the dog handler, searching for bodies, that has to comfort my animal when only death remains.

I’m the woman who stands in line for five hours in order to give blood, hoping to help strangers in need.

I’m the man who gets up and goes to work every day, in spite of the tragedy, because he still has a family to feed.

I’m the first passenger to get back on a plane, even though I’m terrified, because I know somebody has to be first.

Who am I?

I’m nobody special.

I’m just an American.

Hymn #2013 (Sing the Faith) – Bless the Lord

Scripture reading – Psalm 23, read from the New Revised Standard Version
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper – Our tradition in this congregation is to partake of the bread whenever you feel prepared to do so and to hold the wine/juice until all have been served so that we can all partake together. This gives us the chance to participate in this holy mystery as we participate in our faith – both as individuals and as a community.
          Invitation to the Table
Communion Hymn #2261 (Sing the Faith) – Life-Giving Bread
Great Thanksgiving
One: God be with you.
               Many: And also with you.
                One: Lift up your hearts.
               Many: We lift them up to God.
                One: Let us give thanks to God Most High.
               Many: It is right to give our thanks and praise.
          Communion Prayer
Lord’s Prayer: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
          Words of Institution
Sharing the Bread and the Cup
Prayer of Thanksgiving

Hearing the Stories – David Hood

Time of Silence

Offering
* Hymn of Response #785 (NCH)
* Prayer of Dedication

Scripture reading – Revelation 21:1-6, read from the Common English Bible
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring.

Reading – “I Hold in My Hands” by Aaron J. Walsh
I hold in my hands …
The dust.
The dust and wreckage of the towers.
Even though I wasn’t there,
I can still feel it.
It has damaged my hands with dirt.
It has damaged my heart with sorrow.
It has damaged my body with fear,
and it has damaged my life with war.

I hold in my hands …
My life.
My life could soon be filled with war,
cruelty at its worst.
Miles away, I can hear the planes’ roaring engines, gliding through the air.

I hold in my hands …
My future.
My life ahead.
Whether it will be filled with war or peace, we will not know.
My future keeps me going from dawn to dusk.

I hold in my hands …
Hope.
Hope for the future.
Hope for peace.
Hope for my country’s freedom.
And hope for America to win this war on terrorism.

* Charge & Benediction

* Sending Hymn #2156 (Sing the Faith) – Give Peace 

 

* indicates please rise in body or spirit as you are able

Sept. 2016 newsletter piece

sidewalk-grass

At the end of July, I spent some continuing education time in Iowa at Synod School. You’ve seen it advertised in our newsletter, and I know I’ve spoken about it in church before. Synod School is an incredible experience open to pastors and lay people alike. It’s a week-long conference that offers a central convocation speaker (this year’s was John Bell) as well as a staggering variety of classes – everything from basket weaving and folk dancing to an in-depth study of Lamentations to the Gospel According to Harry Potter or Star Wars or the Big Bang Theory. It’s also an incredibly family-friendly experience. There were 645 participants in Synod School this year, and more than 100 of them were children. There’s educational programming for kids age 0-18 so that parents have a chance to experience some classes for themselves, but children are most definitely present and welcome.

This year, one of the courses that I took was called Managing Stress in Ministry led by Rev. Dr. Mark Sundby, an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church and currently the Executive Director of the North Central Ministry Development Center in New Brighton. In it, we spent time talking about the various aspects of ministry that can be stressful and the amount of stress that clergy are under in general compared to other professions.

But we also spent time talking about a variety of ways that we can relieve stress in our lives – not just ministers, but everyone else. We did some deep breathing exercises. We participated in some silent meditation and some guided meditations. And on the final full day of classes, we spent time experiencing a walking meditation.

The general idea of a walking meditation is to remain present in the moment and be constantly aware of your surroundings … not your mental grocery list, not your to-do list, not your email or your Facebook account or the current headlines. Be present and aware of the world around you and your place in it.

There are a number of ways to “do” a walking meditation. It can be as easy as focusing on your breathing: breathe in for a count of three with one step and out for a count of four with the next step. You can focus on the feeling of the ground under your feet. You can focus on a particular word or phrase – something to keep bringing you back to the present moment when your mind inevitably starts to wander. One of the phrases that Mark suggested to us was:

– Step one: Present moment.

– Step two: Wonderful moment.

Truly, the possibilities for walking meditations are endless.

For that final day, because the weather was beautiful and we had time, I chose to take my sandals off – to truly feel and connect with the ground beneath my feet. As I wandered through the Buena Vista University campus, I consciously kept my left foot in the grass and my right foot on the sidewalk whenever possible.

This action turned into a little bit of a guided meditation for me because I began to look at the ground under my left foot as life. Sometimes it was lush and green, soft under my feet and pleasant to walk on. Sometimes it was rocky or there were little twigs and things sticking up that were uncomfortable under my bare feet. The elevation changed slightly – sometimes a little higher, sometimes a little lower. Every step was sometime different – a new feeling, a new environment, a new experience.

At the same time, I began to look at the ground under my right foot as God. It was solid. It was strong. It was constant. No matter whether the ground under my left foot was higher or lower, the ground under my right foot was always a little bit higher still – keeping me up, keeping me steady, keeping me grounded. And in those times when there was no grass on which to place my left foot, there was always pavement to carry me forward.

Like many other people, I have always struggled with Paul’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Life gets busy. I find myself running and running and forgetting to stop. But this exercise of walking meditation brought be closer to an understanding of what Paul might have meant. It was a chance to pray without words – to pray with my imagination, with my feelings and my fears, and yes, even with my feet.

Pastor Lisa sign

 

Aug. 2016 newsletter piece

hope-2

Jesus’ story of the prodigal son …

A familiar story, familiar words.

A father has two sons. The younger son decides he wants his inheritance early, so the father divides all he has and gives the younger son his share. The younger son goes off and squanders his early inheritance on “extravagant living.” When his money runs out and he begins to be in need (desperate, desperate need!), he decides to return home to his father and beg for forgiveness. While the younger son is welcomed home with open arms and a feast to end all feasts, the story ends with the older son frustrated by this welcome and the father reminding the older son that what was lost has been found. (Luke 15:11-32)

Often, a reading of this story is accompanied by a message about forgiveness – about redemption and being welcomed home. And yes, that’s certainly something we hear in this story.

But the story of the prodigal son is also a story of hope. We see the first glimmer of hope in the younger son’s initial “bright and shiny” vision for an amazing future full of all those things that he didn’t think he could find back home on the farm: excitement, adventure, and a lavish lifestyle.

Then reality comes screaming in in the form of pig food that is starting to look appetizing.

The reality that has come screaming in for us lately has been far worse – much more devastating, much more sobering, and much more painful. We’ve seen senseless and unnecessary deaths – in Orlando, in Baton Rouge, in Roseville, in Dallas, in Turkey, in Nice, and in so many other places. We’re caught in the throes of grief and loss, frustration and anxiety, distrust and shame.

Do we feel like we’ve been trampled down in the muck and the mud and the filth?

Do we feel soul-weary and spirit-worn?

Do we look up and out, and like the son in Jesus’ story, say, “God, I just want to go home?”

And therein lies the hope. Out of the muck and the mud and the filth – out of the appalling circumstances and the suffering – is a way out … a way forward.

HOPE lies in the younger son’s journey home. Every step is filled with anticipation and apprehension, dreams and doubts. Every step grows a little stronger, a little lighter, a little surer. Every step carried him further and further away from rock bottom.

HOPE lies in the home itself. It’s a safe place to land. It’s a place that holds all the sacredness and familiarity of memories as well as all the potential for new beginnings – a place to come back to as well as a place to start out from, a place of turning and returning, a place of repentance and renewal. Home is where we come together. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s messy. But it’s the place where we come together.

HOPE lies in the father’s waiting. “While he was a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion” (Lk 15:20). I’d be willing to bet that the father didn’t just happen to glance up at the right time. That father was waiting, hoping for a change of mind, hoping for a change of heart, hoping for his son to return to that place of deepest love and sincerest welcome.

HOPE even lies in the snarky, crotchety older brother. There is hope in the accountability that we find in his presence – someone to keep us honest, someone to read us as we are, whether we like it or not. And there is hope in the relationship-building and rebuilding that is yet to be: bridges to be built, hearts to be mended, and futures to be imagined together.

Friends, is any of this striking a chord? Is any of this sounding familiar? God calls us to hope, to freedom, to love and grace. May we open our eyes – in the midst of the muck and the pain, the mud and the anger, the filth and the fear. May we open our eyes and step out together to follow God’s call into hope.

Pastor Lisa sign

Sunday’s sermon post: Faith in Falling, Faith in Following

trust fall

Texts used – Psalm 62:5-12 and Mark 1:14-20

  • When I was a kid – probably 8 or 9 years old – my pastor, Pastor Jamie, took us on a camping trip up to Clearwater Forest.
    • Probably 8 or 10 kids
    • Trip full of fun and excitement
      • Stuff on our own
      • Stuff with the campers at the time (games, etc.)
    • One of the things we did on our own – just those of us from our church – that has always stuck with me was a trust fall.
      • Describe trust fall – picnic table, grasping arms, falling backwards staying stiff
      • Now, believe you me, falling wasn’t easy! If I remember right, it took me a couple tries to get it “right” – to fall backwards staying flat instead of trying to protect myself by sitting as I fell backward. It took serious trust, especially for an incredibly shy 9-yr-old! I had to have faith that the people who I couldn’t see were actually going to be there to catch me.
  • Our passage from the gospel today is probably one of the most well-known stories – one of the most quoted. Jesus says, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”[1] We read about Jesus issuing The Call (capital “T”, capital “C”), and we envy those fishermen and the ease with which they simply drop their nets and stroll off down the road after Jesus. But even for these apostles, following Jesus wasn’t as easy as it may have seemed.
    • Mark: Immediately [Simon and Andrew] left their nets and followed [Jesus.] … Immediately, [Jesus] called [James and John]; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.[2]
      • Gr is very telling → “left” is the key = suggests giving something up, utter release
        • Used in NT to speak of the way in which God forgives sins: God doesn’t return these sins to us at a later date. God removes them entirely … and this is how completely Simon, Andrew, James, and John released their nets, their obligations, and their lives … entirely.
        • Scholar: The fact that these men drop both occupation and family obligations to follow the one who summons them demonstrates that their call comes from God. … In a traditional society, such a break with family and occupation … was an extraordinary disruption in a person’s life. It might even have seemed offensive.[3]
          • Fishermen were not young men with no obligations
          • Fishermen were not poor men with nothing to do
          • They were probably middle-aged men with a job and families and responsibilities. And yet, they went.
    • Now, the text says they followed “immediately,” but I don’t want this word to fool you. Throughout his gospel, Mark tries to convey to the readers just how crucial it is that they hear and believe the gospel message because there is no time to waste. It shows up no less than 40 times in the gospels that is by far the shortest – only 16 chapters! So while immediacy in the gospel of Mark is a sign of the immediacy of the Kingdom of God, it probably isn’t the most accurate measure of “real” time. So the disciples’ decision to leave may not have been as “immediate” as we originally thought. Maybe they stood and talked about it together. Maybe they sat in the rocks on the shore wrestling with themselves and their newly-uttered Call. Or maybe, just as Mark says, they did simply hear Jesus’ words, get up, and walk away. Maybe it was that easy for them – without question, without hesitation, without fear. But being readers who know the whole story, we know that, even if these fishermen did make their decision quickly, the path ahead of them isn’t going to be an easy one.
      • Hassled by religious authorities of the time at nearly every turn
      • Following Jesus meant hanging out with people that had been rejected by society
        • Tax collectors
        • Sinners
        • Lepers
      • And then there’s what surely seemed to the disciples to be the most unthinkable end of the story – Jesus’ arrest, torture and death. Do you think, as those fishermen were walking away from their nets and their boats and their families, they had any inkling of the horrors that were to come? Would it have changed their decision if they did?
  • And the apostles aren’t the only ones who struggle, are they?
    • Both in personal lives and the life of the church
      • Conflicts with people we love
      • Times of emotional stress or financial hardship
      • Sometimes way seems unclear
      • Sometimes we disagree
      • We grow tired and frustrated, and at times, we feel like we just don’t have the strength to follow.
    • Fortunately, our psalm this morning gives us an enduring foundation: For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.[4] → Following Jesus isn’t always easy … but the words of the psalm assure us that God will be there to catch us when we fall.
      • See this assurance in the last verse: And steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.[5] → I know that probably doesn’t sound like much of an assurance, but Hebrew for “repay” = very special root
        • Meaning: restore, fulfill … or, most commonly, peace → root = shalom
        • Scholar: Perhaps [this verse] should be rendered, “For [God] will give peace to all according to their work” … This conclusion obviously does not mean that God rewards the faithful with an easy and materially prosperous life. … Psalm 62 commends the rewarding experience of finding refuge in God alone.[6] → Ps: “My God is a refuge” – My God is a stronghold, a haven, a sanctuary. My God is my strength, my rest, my peace.
      • This psalm encourages faith. It encourages trust. What it doesn’t do is promise that that faith and trust will come easily or that they won’t be tested. But time and time again, we are reminded that our strongest, most secure refuge can be found in God. It’s like the trust fall we did with Jamie. It was difficult. It was scary. And we weren’t even falling that far! But even if everyone else hadn’t caught me, the worst I would’ve suffered was a few bumps and bruises. The stakes for the fishermen were much higher, yet still they exemplified for us the way of faith and trust and hope.
  • Painful recent example of faith and hope and trust in the face of difficulty came up just yesterday – How many of you remember that day back in 1989 when the news headlines started breaking about a boy kidnapped in small-town Minnesota? How many of you hugged your children, your grandchildren, your nieces or nephews tighter as you watched Patty Wetterling plead for the return of her son, Jacob? How many of you left porchlights on as a sign of solidarity and hope for his safe return?

Jacob Wetterling

  • Jacob Wetterling’s abduction forever changed life for children not only in Minnesota but across the country
    • Parents were far less willing to let their children go off on their own
    • Parents, grandparents, teachers had to have conversations that no one wants to have to have with children full of light and innocence and joy – conversations about strangers, about saying “no” even when you’re scared, about running … conversations about evil
    • Patty Wetterling began crusade
      • Speaking in schools – speeches that literally saved lives
        • Friend’s story: “I was walking to the outdoor pool with a friend in the summer of 1990, I had just finished kindergarten. A man in a light blue beat up car pulled up to us and offered us 5$ to get in his car. I said no and he offered 10$. I said no and that my parents would give me 10$ not to get in his car. He drove away. I knew I was not to get in his car. I knew because of Jacob Wettlering. I knew because after Jacob was abducted my parents talked to us about him. I knew not to go with this stranger because Patti Wetterling came and talked to all the kids at our elementary school about ways to stay safe. Thanks Jacob and Patti. That story could have ended very differently for me if it weren’t for you.
      • Family’s work in child safety and public policy
        • Founded Jacob Wetterling Foundation and Jacob Wetterling Resource Center – educate and assist families and communities to address and prevent the exploitation of children, by putting online and in-person safety information in the hands of every man, woman and child
        • Helped pass national law in 1994 named after Jacob that required states to establish sex offender registries
  • Through all of this – throughout the past 27 years of not knowing where their own beloved child might be – the Wetterlings have worked passionately and tirelessly out of a hope and a trust that someday, Jacob would be found. That someday he would come home. And as of yesterday, he did … but not in the way that anyone was hoping for.
    • Statement put out by Jacob Wetterling Resource Center: “We are in deep grief. We didn’t want Jacob’s story to end this way. In this moment of pain and shock, we go back to the beginning. The Wetterlings had a choice to walk into bitterness and anger or to walk into a light of what could be, a light of hope. Their choice changed the world. This light has been burning for close to 27 years. The spark began in the moments after the abduction of Jacob Wetterling, when his family decided that light is stronger than darkness. They lit the flame that became Jacob’s Hope. All of Central Minnesota flocked to and fanned the flame, hoping for answers. The light spread state-wide, nationally and globally as hearts connected to the 11 year old boy who liked to play goalie for his hockey team, wanted to be a football player, played the trombone, and loved the times he spent with his sisters, brother, and parents. Today, we gather around the same flame. The flame that has become more than the hope for one as it led the way home for thousands of others. It’s the light that illuminates a world that Jacob believed in, where things are fair and just. Our hearts are heavy, but we are being held up by all of the people who have been a part of making Jacob’s Hope a light that will never be extinguished. It shines on in a different way. We are, and we will continue to be, Jacob’s Hope. Jacob, you are loved.
  • Friends, life is not always what we want it to be. We are human. We fear. We doubt. We struggle. We get tired and frustrated and over-burdened and stretched too thin. Sometimes, the world around us can be scary and dangerous – full of pitfalls and darkness and things that go bump in the night. And sometimes we fall. But we can trust that God – our stronghold, our haven and our sanctuary, our strength, our rest and our peace – will always be there to catch us all when we fall. Amen.

[1] Mk 1:17.

[2] Mk 1:18,20.

[3] 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), 539.

[4] Ps 62:5-8.

[5] Ps 62:12.

[6] McCann, 923-924.

Aug. 28 sermon: Epilogue

end of Esther
Scene from the movie “Esther and the King,” 1960

Text used – Esther 8:1-11; 9:1, 12-17

  • Before I read our Scripture this morning, I want to recap a little bit.
    • Spent basically the entire summer together in the book of Esther
      • Met all the central characters: King Ahasuerus, Queen Vashti, the palace eunuchs, Queen Esther, her cousin Mordecai, and the king’s wicked advisor Haman
      • Watched the rise and fall of the storyline
        • Queen Vashti’s banishment
        • Esther’s elevation to the throne
        • Clash between Haman and Mordecai à wounded Haman’s pride and spurred his plot to annihilate all the Jews
        • Mordecai rouse Esther to action on behalf of her people despite her own personal danger (king’s fickle temper)
        • Last week: Esther reveal that Haman’s horrible plan would affect her, too à king’s terrible rage à Haman’s death on the very pike intended for Mordecai
      • And believe it or not, I wish that was where the story ended. Despite Haman’s less-than-pleasant demise, that’s a fairly lovely end to the story. Esther’s happy. The king is happy. We’re happy. … But, friends, that’s not the end of Esther’s story. Buckle your seatbelts. Let’s finish the story of Esther together this morning.
  • [READ SCRIPTURE]
  • Do you see what I mean? Do you understand now why I said I wish that we could have ended Esther last week? Hmmm. Yeah.
    • Today’s Scripture seems to start out not too bad – rewards for Esther and Mordecai: That same day King Ahasuerus gave Queen Esther what Haman the enemy of the Jews owned. Mordecai himself came before the king because Esther had told the king that he was family to her. The king took off his royal ring, the one he had removed from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. Esther put Mordecai in charge of what Haman had owned.[1] → Esther and Mordecai had been through a terrible ordeal. They had been subjected to severe mental and emotional strain thanks to Haman’s wickedness. Call this their “pain and suffering settlement.”
      • BUT … one thing that doesn’t sit right with me even in this – Where did that settlement come from? Did you catch it?: King Ahasuerus gave Queen Esther what Haman the enemy of the Jews owned. … Esther put Mordecai in charge of what Haman had owned. → Esther and Mordecai were rewarded with Haman’s own property and wealth. … But Haman had a family. He had a wife, Zeresh. We read about her last week. And Haman had sons – 10 sons, to be exact. Scripture doesn’t tell us anything about provisions being made for any of them. So our text this morning starts out with Esther and Mordecai profiting from the suffering of others.
        • Sit uncomfortably with anyone else?
        • Make you frown? Make you squirm a little bit?
    • And it only gets worse from there: [The scribes] wrote exactly what Mordecai ordered to the Jews, rulers, governors, and officials of the provinces from India to Cush – one hundred twenty-seven in all. … The order allowed Jews in each town to join together and defend their lives. The Jews were free to wipe out, kill, and destroy every army of any people and province that attacked them, along with their women and children. They could also take and keep anything their attackers owned. … They put to rest their troubles with their enemies and killed those who hated them. The total was seventy-five thousand dead, but the Jews didn’t lay a hand on anything their enemies owned.[2]
      • [PAUSE]
      • If you weren’t uncomfortable before, are you uncomfortable now? We’ve talked about how God isn’t explicitly mentioned in the book of Esther – about how we have to creatively seek out God in various aspects of the text. I’ll admit that that’s been a fun and interesting challenge this summer. I’ve enjoyed it! But this … I don’t want God to be in this. I don’t want to find God in this sort of retaliation – in this revenge and bloodshed and pain.
        • Totally flies in the face of what we talked about last week – how it wasn’t Esther or Mordecai or any of the Jews who called for Haman’s death, how the idea came from one of the palace eunuchs instead → We took solace in that last week – that in the face of such ugliness and evil, Esther rose above it.
        • But this week, we hear the rest of the story – the epilogue. And we shake our heads. And we question: “Why, God? Where are you in this? Why is this part of your Grand Story of faith? What could you possibly say to us in this?”
          • Truth: I struggled mightily not only with how to preach this text but whether to even preach this text
            • Would have been really easy to just leave the end of the story off → lectionary certainly doesn’t include this part of Scripture in the 3-yr. cycle
            • But I have this sometimes-pesky, strong conviction that we shouldn’t shy away from the challenging parts of Scripture … that we can’t ignore the uncomfortable texts because it’s when we wrestle with those – when we question and explore that uneasiness and hunker right down in the midst of the ugly with open eyes and open hearts – when we wrestle with these parts of Scripture, we grow in our relationships together and our relationship with God.
  • That being said, it’s still really hard to come at this Scripture to preach it. Not gonna lie. Someone came up to me after church last Sunday and asked me how I was going to preach the end of this, and my honest-to-God answer was, “I don’t know yet.” But Dick Eick overheard this exchange and passed on some wisdom that had once been passed on to him: “Sometimes, instead of preaching the text, you have to preach against the text.” And in that perception, I began to see the Light of God dawn on this text. Not in it, but through it.
    • Often talk about how we are broken people who live in a broken world
      • Comes up in worship in the form of confession (always part of our opening prayer) – just like in the relationships we have with people, in our relationship with God, when we make mistakes – when we hurt, when we offend, when we slip up, whether it’s intentional or not – we ask for forgiveness
        • Part of our worship because worship is meant to be an act of deep and genuine connection between us and God → cannot have that truth in that connection unless we come with total honesty … And so we confess. We lay our hearts and souls and very lives bare before God and ask for forgiveness. Because we’re people, and sometimes we screw up.
    • Talked about this in sermons, too → And often, these sermons are paired with Scripture passages that are shining examples of the love and joy and freedom that come from that forgiveness. These Scriptures extoll the virtues of the other side of forgiveness – the fulfilled side, the pretty side, the comfortable side … the forgiven side.
      • Today’s text = the other side – the unsatisfied side, the ugly side, the distressing side … the “not yet” side → today’s text = reason to need forgiveness
      • We hear the words of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, ‘Don’t commit murder,’ and ‘All who commit murder will be in danger of judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.”[3]
      • We hear these words juxtaposed with the staggering violence and vengeance at the end of Esther, and maybe we come to a new understanding of the need for repentance and forgiveness.
        • Cultural context: plight of the Jews → Remember, at this time – Esther and Mordecai’s time – and for a long, long time – centuries! – afterward, the Jews were a people who had been conquered and subjugated by one powerful empire after another. They had already been fighting for their right to live and worship as they wanted for generations! The whole reason they were in Persia in the first place was because Jerusalem had been conquered by Babylon, and the people had been taken into exile – forcibly removed from their homes and their center of culture and faith (the Temple). And then, when Babylon was conquered by the Persian empire, the Jews found themselves conquered and subjugated yet again.
          • Wasn’t the first attempt to wipe them out entire, and as we know, it certainly wasn’t the last
          • Centuries worth of oppression, defeat and injustice à frustration, anger, indignation finally boiled over
          • A context we cannot truly understand as people living in country of such extravagant freedoms
          • A context that cannot be ignored
        • That being said, the scale and intensity of the uprising and carnage at the end of Esther still feels extreme. Defend your lives and your family’s lives, yes, but then go after not only your attacker but also his own family and even his whole village – “women and children”? Doesn’t that feel like it’s going too far?
    • Times when we go too far – either intentionally or unintentionally
      • Words spoken (or, sometimes even worse yet, typed) in the heat of the moment: in frustration, in anger, in fear – words that cannot be taken back
      • Relationships severed in haste because of a misunderstanding, a miscommunication, or just plain laziness – bridges that take years to mend (if they ever can be mended)
      • Actions that forever tarnish a moment in time – unkind to others, unkind to ourselves
      • Maybe in those times, we feel like we’re just defending ourselves or our families. Maybe we feel like if we don’t strike first, the other person is surely going to strike at us. Whatever the reason, what we say and what we do causes other people pain. Is it as devastating as the retaliation of the Jews against the Persians? Not numbers-wise. But we all know that that old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a load of you-know-what. Words can be devastating. They can bring your whole world crashing down, and in this age of instant communication and the ability to post things anonymously, it has become far too easy to drop those kind of bombs in the lives of other people.
        • Words from book of James: Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you.[4] → That word that lives inside of us is God’s word – peace, love, grace (mercy and compassion that is wholly undeserved), forgiveness. Believe me, I know how hard it is to come up with these words when you’re angry, when you’re hurt, when you’re upset or frustrated or feel backed into a corner. But our Scripture reading this morning shows us just how devastating “getting back” and “getting even” can be.
  • End sermon with a time of silence
    • Think about times when you may have gone too far in a reaction
    • Think about times when someone else’s “going too far” has affected you
    • Use time for reflection and repentance
    • [LONG PAUSE]
    • Amen.

[1] Est 8:1-2.

[2] Est 8:9, 11; 9:16.

[3] Mt 5:21-24.

[4] Jas 1:19-21.