July Newsletter

I went searching to see which writings I have not shared here before. I see that the newsletter article that I left for our congregation as James and I traveled to Baltimore for General Synod 31 was not among those posted. Even though this is late, with the message last week about being easily spooked and scared often, I decided this was still a timely piece. Hope it makes sense to some, and have a great day.

Greetings from Afar:
Ha! I will have left on our trip to the east by the time you read this. Hopefully when we finally return it will be with enhanced knowledge and more enthusiasm and, well, all those things you gain from a trip away. I moaned and groaned on the last Sunday in June about apps and uncertainties about details of the trip, but we took time on Tuesday to let Paulina do some downloading and James to make some phone calls, and things appear better. My big job before the take-off was to make sure everything would fit into the suitcase, which for me was the easy part. My family always jokes that if you need to fit an elephant into a hall closet call me. One of the things that I took time to down load onto my iPad besides the Synod App was a Bible. Finally the device is being used as it was intended. It has been interesting to read the scripture in this way, and I even found a version with the footnotes that I can click on to find which other verses relate to the one I am reading. Amazing thing! And much less weight in the carry on. Through this experience, I am again reminded of how selfish and non-productive it is to constantly be in a state of worry. In reality the more we worry and fret, the more we focus on ourselves and what is happening to us. Truly even when we think we are worrying about a loved one or a friend, in reality we are worrying about them because of how it will affect us. We must remember to give our cares to God and trust that we are loved and cared for in all things. Matthew 10:26-31 “…do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” See you soon. Pastor LuCinda

Message Aug. 13, 2017

The picture I am sharing with our message doesn’t really go with the message, it is just a picture of our church as we are having the doors repainted. The one to the left is with the openings boarded shut while the doors are being painted. The one to the right is the men after church working together to put the finished doors back in place. The ones boarded up sort of make the statement of locking people out of the building.

The scriptures used today were: Romans 10:5-15 and Matthew 14:22-33. The title was, “Depending on Christ.”

I have always enjoyed reading, and somehow, I never ever liked to read just a single book, I always wanted it to be a series that keeps going. When I was a young girl some of my favorite books were the Nancy Drew Mystery books. Lately I have been too lazy to read, but instead I enjoy watching the television mystery movies, you know the ones on the Hallmark Movie and Mystery Channel. Well at least I used to like them. The past month or so, I can’t seem to watch them start to finish because they scare me. I just don’t like the anticipation of when the killer is going to grab the one trying to solve the case. I know that in these shows the main character is not going to die, because that would end the series, but it scares me anyway.

And after watching them long enough, I hear things and get spooked. Some of you know me well enough to realize that I am sort of a spook anyway so I don’t really need any help with that. But I just do not need any more nights like the one last week when I was sure I heard something walking around on the porch outside my bedroom. If there was something out there, and I am pretty sure I found the proof of cat spray on the upper deck Thursday. Seriously nothing bigger than a cat is going to get up there without the one sitting in the chair downstairs noticing anyway.

So, the point is that we all have things that scare us. Anyone of us in this building can likely come up with a list of time in their lives when they were frightened, and probably a list of things that scared them. I tried to think of a chronological list of things that have scared me over the year, and this is what I have today. As a young girl on the farm, I was scared to go to the basement to get the ice cream. When I had to go there, I would make sure that my back was always to the wall so that no one could be looking in the windows without me seeing them or so that no one could come out of the cellar and grab me. I either had a great imagination or read too much. Of course some of that might have come from older relatives who were really good at driving fear into all of us.

So, maybe as we get older, we are no longer afraid of the dark or the proverbial “Boogie Man,” but our fears do not necessarily go away. They change. Starting school for some children brings on separation fear from being away from their home and family. Of course school itself can be a scary place, especially when you have a test and are not sure if what you studied was the right information, I think I had more of those issues the older I got. Or what about when you join an athletic team or worse yet, when you coach one? Will the game plan you practiced be the right one for this particular opponent? That fear might explain why I prefer track over team sports. And there are the other things like fear of fitting in with your classmates or others in the school and on and on.

As we grow into adulthood, take jobs and leave home to start families of our own, fears change to include thoughts of job performance, co-worker acceptance, how you are treated by the boss. And then there are children and how we spend our time fearful of all the things that can happen to them: illness, accidents, peer pressure, and the list goes on. My oldest daughters love to tell the story of how I always scared them into staying in the yard when we lived a few miles out of Jamestown. We lived on a gravel road just off Highway 281, that goes from Jamestown to Aberdeen. They always wanted to drive their bikes to the stop sign. I forbid them from doing that alone; first off some of the drivers on our road were pretty speedy and might have hit them. The other issue was that it was a major highway, and it was fairly close to the time when the Wettering boy was abducted in Minnesota.

The older I get, the better I understand the why of some of my fears, and many of them are not so scary anymore. But, I don’t think I will ever get over the depression era mind-set and the fear that goes with it that I learned growing up as the oldest grandchild, sitting around the evening coffee table with my grandmother and her sisters and though the talk might have been about other things, the underlying theme of finances, and getting by, and how to make do with what you have, was always there. We have gardens today because we like the taste of fresh produce and the knowledge of how it has been raised. They had gardens to make sure there would be something to eat. That was a completely different mindset and the knowledge of that puts a different sort of fear into the back of one’s mind, and it hangs with you.

With all of that in mind, I want to tell you that I found out this week that because of my fears, my chances of living to a fairly old age are pretty strong. I was on one of those internet news feeds and read a headline that said, “A telltale trait of a long life” I had to tap in and find out and what it was…ironically it is worrying. People who worry who have anxiety about things are likely to live longer than those who don’t really care. To me it sounds odd; wouldn’t worriers be more likely to develop medical issues? Apparently that wasn’t an issue. I read on to see if people who worry are less likely to take stupid chances so then have fewer accidents. Actually the article didn’t really confirm or deny that thought, and it really didn’t have a good reason why it is true, but for some reason of all the people they surveyed in that study, the worriers lived longer.

Maybe the disciples would have liked to hear about that survey, and then they could have come back to Jesus with a good reason for their concerns. They could have at least said their fear, their worry, was keeping them alive longer. Because, as you can see from today’s gospel lesson, they sure knew how to worry and fret.

Our story today picks up right after the feeding of the 5,000 and the disciples have gone out in the boat while Jesus went up the hill to be alone and pray. While they are on the boat, the wind picks up and there is a rough storm. As we read this, some of you might have thought of the other time when the disciples were out on the water during a storm. In that other story, Jesus was sleeping at one end of the boat while the storm is going on. If you remember that story, the disciples were getting pretty frantic and when they couldn’t handle the boat alone, they finally went to Jesus and woke him, and he stood up and told the wind to stop and the waves to quit and it they obeyed him and it was all still. If we read this right, that story, that other story with Jesus in the boat with them that happened first. It already happened. The disciples have already experience what Jesus can do when he is in the boat with them. They know his power, but they also know that this time they are alone. He isn’t here with them on this trip, and it is bad, and they don’t know what to do.

Oh but look up and who is coming towards them, walking across the water?  It is Jesus. Here while they are again frantic about the wind and the waves and they are alone, and by the way, it is dark. They look out across the sea, and good grief here comes a figure walking towards them. OK I am not sure about you, but I am not really that far away from the little girl who turned her back to the wall while she carried the ice cream up the steps. I am not sure how I would react to seeing someone or something walking across the water towards that boat. Yet as fearful as they might be, they recognize Jesus and Peter asks to walk with him, and for a bit he does, and pretty soon they are both in the boat, and the storm stops.

Do you get what happens? We read it here as a historical event, as a thing that happened. Jesus walked towards them, across the stormy sea and when he gets into the boat, the storm quits. Now let’s look at this in the metaphor it is for us today, and for the disciples in their day, but mostly for us now.

When Jesus gets into the boat, the storm stops.

This is what our message today is all about. Our title today might say “Depending on Christ” and that is all well and good, but the bottom line, the thing we need to take away with us is this: When Jesus gets into the boat with us, the storm stops.

I know it is not always that simple, but you know what? It really is that simple. It really is. Maybe the person we care about is still sick, or the problems of our life are still there, but when we invite Jesus into our boat, and we let him be the number one in the boat, in our lives, then the storms do stop. The problems of life are still there, but somehow the way we accept them and tolerate them is different, and that is what we need to understand from this story. If we get nothing else today, let’s go from here with the understanding that we won’t go sailing until we invite Christ into the boat. Amen!!

Message July 30

The scriptures were: Romans 8:26-39 and Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52. It was another week of parables about planting, so my title was, “Another Sowing Parable.”

Before we get started, I need to apologize for failing to tell you last Sunday that I was planning to be out of town all week. I went with James, this year, to the coaches’ clinic in Bismarck. There was a session on a new piece of technology and he wanted me there to get the information on it. It was good, and there were lots of interesting sessions, but I hope that I will not have to go away overnight again this summer. I am good with staying home and getting things done around here and around home.

Our sessions included information about coaching ethics and philosophy and not just specific techniques, which was interesting for a change. One of our final presenters, a coach from Billings, MT, who did three of the four last hours, gave us his dilemma of walking into a team with absolutely no discipline. It seemed that for many years prior to his coming to West Billings High School, no one cared about the track team, as in no one—not administration, not parents and especially not students or even the track athletes.

After he took the job, he found out that they really were at the bottom of the proverbial sports’ totem pole in their school. The first thing he learned was that they didn’t have a budget, so no equipment purchases and don’t think about purchasing any other sort of things like meals for the meets. He fixed that with a fund raiser. On one of the first bus rides to a meet one of the athletes asked who would be next year’s coach. It was then he learned that before him no one coached there for more than one year, and because of it the athletes did whatever they wanted. In fact, everyone kept telling him not to get worked up because it was “just track.” I don’t think the schools of Eureka or Herreid would understand that idea. We have never been like that.

His point was that discipline and expectations are very important to building a program that will be successful, and then that success carries itself. He decided early on in his time there that he wasn’t going to be there for only one year, and that he wanted to build something that the student athletes were going to buy into and something they would work as hard at as he would.

He was asked to speak at the clinic because he has had a team win the Montana State AA title for 7 of the 12 years that he has been there. And on the other years, they were pretty much second or third. I forgot to write down how many times they have been 2nd or 3rd.

I think his belief that children need discipline and need to buy into a program has done wonders for their teams. Lately, the more news I watch and the more I pay attention to certain local politics, the more I realize how important discipline and following some sort of rules would be good for all of us. Enough said on that.

The reading that we had in Romans today, at least the ending part, might seem familiar to us. I am sort of hoping that it becomes less and less familiar to us, but … Those words are found in our bulletins when we have a funeral. The last verses of Romans 8 are the final part of that affirmation of faith that we read together following our funeral messages, before the final song and benediction. As a public affirmation, we read these words and if we believe, really believe what we are reading, we are telling everyone around us that we have bought into the message that Jesus brought to earth from God, which is that we are loved and accepted and wanted. We have importance. We are children of God and nothing will keep us away from his love, his acceptance, his family.

But what about the words we keep reading in the 13th chapter of Matthew? What about those parables about sowing and plants growing and good seed and bad seed? What about that idea that on the last day, the weeds will be torn from the good grain and sent to the fire to be burned. One of the commentaries that I read last week said that was a much easier concept for the people of our frontier to grasp than it is for us. If any of you have read the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder, you might remember the book called, The Long Winter. In it we read how they were out of fuel in the middle of that winter during a horrible blizzard, and they went to the barn and kept twisting hay and putting it into the wood burning stove to keep themselves from freezing. Having some extra weeds around to burn would have been a great luxury in those days.

So who are these weeds and who are these seeds that grow up to be the good crop? How does this difference happen? In today’s gospel lesson the parable is about a useless seed, a little tiny mustard seed that in the days of Jesus had no purpose, yet it grows up to be something of great importance that houses many of the birds of the air. It seems to be telling us that even what we think is nothing can become something. It seems to be saying that the least of these are important. Could it be telling us that we too are important? Could it be saying that even if we feel mostly inadequate, we are somebody in the eyes of God? Maybe we are supposed to connect them to other Bible stories of how the last will become first and the first will become last? Perhaps that is something for us to study in our age of importance and entitlement.

But what about the rest of the parables, those little incidental phrases near the end of this passage? The themes of those seem to be that the kingdom of heaven is a treasure that is worth more than anything else we could ever have or ever want. Jesus is telling us that no matter what we have or want to have on this earth, nothing can ever compare to what we can have in the kingdom of heaven, in God’s kingdom. And the underlying message of that is sort of the opposite, the converse. It is the idea that we should strive for what we gain in the kingdom of heaven, not what we gain in this kingdom. In other words, what we do here—on this earth—should be in an effort to build up mansions in the great beyond, not mansions on this earth where things don’t last. We need to be buying into the kingdom of heaven, not the kingdom on earth. Sort of gives you a different perspective on saving for retirement. Perhaps this is a different kind of 401K.

And what about the things we talked about a few weeks ago when I said, and I saw some of you agreeing, that we need to be about more than just sitting around waiting for the day when we join the kingdom of heaven?  Yes, we do need to be about more as a congregation and as individual Christians; we need to be active in spreading the gospel and loving our neighbors and caring for the world around us, “A Just World for All” and all of that stuff, but just doing that doesn’t make or break it in terms of getting us to the kingdom of God. We can’t ‘good works’ our way in, we can’t buy our way in, we can’t sing or teach or preach our way in, we all know that.

Paul in Romans 8:38-39 says there is nothing, nothing at all that can keep us apart from the love of God. Then how is it that there still are weeds that get pulled away from the good crops and thrown into the final fire? The fact is, there is nothing outside of ourselves that can keep us from God. It is what is on the inside that determines where we go on the day of dividing. It is what we believe, where our faith lies that makes the difference for us when our time here is over. All God asks is that we believe, that we believe in him, in his Son and accept the Holy Spirit into our lives to guide us and help us through all that we face. Will we be perfect at all times, of course not, we are human. But by following the words of Jesus, who says, “we are to love God with all our heart and love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.” If we do that then when our day comes, nothing will be able to keep us from that love that God offers us, which means on that day, that wonderful day; we will see Christ in Paradise.  And, as long as we can buy into that faith—that wonderful faith in Christ, I don’t think there is anything we can’t accomplish. Amen!

Message from July 16, 2017

Following is the message from this past Sunday. The scripture focus was Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23,  and Isaiah 55:10-13, though I backed up and started from verse 6. Also read was Romans 8:1-11, but I did not reference that one in the message. The title was, “Open to the Word.”

Our message from Matthew is one of Jesus’ parables and should be a fairly familiar one for us. I am sure we all remember the parable of the sower, but the truth is the point that Jesus makes is not about the sower, it is about the soil that receives the seed. The  story is really about how we as the hearers accept the words that Jesus offers. The point of the lesson today is if we are open to God’s words.

In the parable of the sower—the one who scatters the seeds—is Christ, or at the least someone working on behalf of Christ, perhaps his disciples, or maybe, hopefully even one of us in today’s world. The seed is the word of God, the gospel, the teachings of Jesus. The soil—and this is the variable part of the story/the soil—is the one to whom the word is spoken, and scary but here is probably where we can say, this is us.

In the first case, the seed doesn’t even have an opportunity to take hold. The word goes out to this person, but before it can even enter the mind of the listener something interferes, as the writing here says, the powers of evil causes a distraction and takes away the message. Perhaps this is the person who doesn’t even find an opportunity to become part of a faith community, the second seed, the one that falls on rocky soil sprouts, but because of the lack of roots, it withers and dies. According to the explanations of the parable, these are the people who hear the words of Jesus and get all excited about it, but they either don’t know how to nurture this new found joy. Or maybe they do find a church home, perhaps they even join a congregation of believers, but they just are not able to get that involved. There are just too many things that pull them away from any commitments of any kind and so they just are not able to follow Jesus as he would have them do. Either way, these two types of seeds, these two types of potential believers produce nothing.

If you are talking strictly seeds and growing, we have some peas that fit the bill of either of the first two situations this year. James thinks those that would be of the first type were likely pulled out by one of those pheasants that lives in the hay field across the dike between us and the creek. He probably snuck up over the dike for a snack, but was disturbed before he could get all of the seeds. He scratched them out, but didn’t have time to eat them all. Those that weren’t eaten up lay on the top of the soil and because they had a little moisture and a lot of heat they germinated, but they were not in the soil far enough to take root and grow. The bottom line is that there are no plants, and no peas from these seeds.

The cosmos acting as weeds in the vegetable garden.

The third type of seed falls on good soil, but for whatever reason all sorts of weeds grow up with it. I can really relate to that business this year with our garden and all of the extra volunteer plants. As you noticed coming through the door this morning and with what is on display up front here, we have been busy pulling out lots of extra cosmos and anyone who wants some are certainly welcome to take what they want. If someone wants some but doesn’t want them today, let’s talk and I can arrange something for you later because I have this feeling we will need to take out more this week. The cosmos and the other volunteer plants that we have like the pumpkin and the sunflowers are all pretty harmless. We might consider them weeds simply because they are in the wrong place, but the way weeds is used in the scripture lesson today the meaning is more of a noxious plant. We are to understand that this plant is not good for any reason at all.

In fact, according to the Tyndale commentary, the worst sort of weeds in the days of Jesus was a very poisonous plant that looked much like the wheat plants, but with a much stronger root. Let’s consider that in terms of the metaphor that this parable seems to be. If the actual weed is poison, the symbolic weed is a person who is poison, or a situation that is poisonous. The seed in this case is someone who hears the word, and it takes root in them, and they are growing and flourishing maybe even as part of a church congregation, but they are also surrounded tightly by bad influences. They are tangled up with people and situations that are “poisonous.” The explanation says that they are so much a part of the world that they cannot live their lives as Christ would have them live.

Now in essence that could be anyone of us. We are here, we are believers, we participate in our congregation, yet we are still part of the secular world. I think the hardest part for me in this area is that I leave here on Sunday mornings, or Wednesday evenings as the case may be, and I drive out of town. And I will be honest; sometimes I forget where I have just been and what I have been doing. And sometimes, I just plain act like these are two different lives, and they are not, and I need to stop thinking that way. Maybe if I would get off my lazy couch and contact the conference office about going into what they call discernment and taking steps towards full ordination, maybe then I will begin to see my life, as really being here as a permanent commitment and not just a temporary thing like others jobs I have had.

The final part of the seed story is about when the seed falls on the good soil and it sprouts and grows and is harvested with very good yields. This is the soil that I am thinking we all want to identify as being. We come here each week listening to the stories of Christ and the word that God has for us, we participate in the liturgy and the music and the prayers, we put our offerings in the collection plate hoping that it helps someone who is really in need and then we leave with the idea of facing another week of sharing what we know with those around us in whatever way we can. That is what the good soil is about in this story of the sower. We know that, and I feel pretty confident is saying that we all want to be that.

But maybe we want to ask if there is more than just the soil and the seeds. Is there more than just the word or the message being spoken to fall where it may fall? We know that sometimes growth and harvest is connected to the elements as much as to the soil. This year is our area we all know what farming in a drought it all about. Now more than ever it is important to keep vigil, to take steps of precaution, to use good practices that protect what is already growing be it crops or animals. I go outside into the garden and look at the parched soil, and it doesn’t matter how much water we pour on to it at 6 a.m., by 10:30 parts of it are powder dry. And some days I catch myself asking if there is a connection between the physical drought and a spiritual drought, like there was a connection in the parable. I don’t have that answer. But, I do not believe that God sends drought to punish us. You know that old statement of: well they get rain because they live right.

Jesus wants us to all be the good soil that accepts the seed/the word of God. Jesus wants us to grow amid a field of fellow believers and produce an abundant harvest. Maybe our question today should be: what is that harvest? Is it simply more members in our pews? Or maybe it is a continuation of being the ones who share Christ’s love with those around us whether they are right here in our community or someplace around the globe. Maybe our harvest is as simple as sharing a “cup of water,” in the form of a bag of school supplies, a tub of items for the home, a financial donation to someone in need, a quilt for a college student or a …. You fill in the blank, and let me know sometime what it is you would put there. Amen!!

Message the Sunday following the State Track Meet

Following is the message that was heard in our church the day after the State Track Meet, on May 28, 2017. The scriptures used were: John 17:1-11, I Peter 4:12-14 & 5:6-11 and Acts 1:6-14. The title was “That They May Be One.”

Today it is really the beginning of summer in our house. The track season is over, and we are as some would say, finally free of meets and practices. I am thinking that it might even be time to put out the garden one day this week. As I said in the newsletter, it is my favorite time and my least favorite time. I have so enjoyed this season even for as tightly crammed as it was and even for the way I felt so tired sometimes. As I sat down on Friday night to put together this message, I couldn’t help but think of the scriptures a few weeks ago that pointed us to the message of “Life Here, too,” which was based off a podcast from the National website called “Enjoy this life.”

I have tried to use that whole concept of enjoying the life you are given as a jumping off board, a focus of a way to think of things, and to that I have been trying to add the idea of living in the moment. That thought of being present in what is happening in your life at the time and enjoying it has really been gnawing on me. I tried hard to put that into play this weekend, and for the most part it seemed to work. Maybe we will take a little time out here to give you the grumps of the weekend, just to get them out of the way so that the rest of this message will really have a turned up, happy note to it.

Ok, so the down side was really limited to a couple of things and mainly it boils down to only one thing and that is the attitude of entitlement. In North Dakota we only have a Class A and a Class B, and it gets really tiresome to learn that rules are being changed because certain things don’t seem to suit the important people in Class A. It is also annoying to have certain people on the team end up always doing the heavy lifting, and I do mean heavy in terms of setting up and taking down while others seem to skate by, always, even when duties have been assigned. And mostly working with youngsters is emotionally draining because they have this awful tendency to grow up and graduate and move on, and that is just way too hard for some of us. So, my warning to you is that no one here is allowed to move away, even if you get some notion that you want to be closer to children or other family or whatever the excuse is. I just won’t have it.

The entire group heading to state.

Ok, grumpy piece over, now for the good part. I ended up driving a mini-van on our trip, and instead of putting the older students in it, we left them with Mr. Haak on the mini-bus where there was more leg room, and I took the youngest group, the 7th graders. Let me just say that I have not heard so much giggling in a very long time, and I think that a few of them might have had stomach aches from laughing. It was a wonderful sound even somewhat musical and as I listened to them, I could feel their complete, absolute and pure joy. There was nothing better, even when they were giggling because they were making fun of my driving. So understand that it was this last story, this young childlike joy that was in my mind as I did a reread of the scripture lessons for this week.

As we start with the lesson in Acts, we find a story very similar to the one at the end of Luke in terms of the ascension of Jesus. Although in Luke it flat out uses the phrase “great joy,” I also get the impression of joy from the accounting of the event in this passage in Acts. We don’t see the word joy or exultation or anything on that line, but we also do not read anything that might indicate fear or alarm or sadness or gloom. These verses tell about how Jesus talks to his disciple, basically giving them their final instructions before he leaves them. In some of the other gospels we are told that this is when he is taken to his rightful place at the right hand of God. To me that idea alone should give us the image of an unimaginable joy that Christ is able to experience.

The other joy and the part I want us to concentrate on is the feelings of the disciples and what feelings that should give us. When Christ is taken away, according to the story in Acts, the disciples are visited by two men in white, two angels we presume. They tell the disciples to stop looking, or staring up looking for Jesus, because he will come again. Now the disciples had been told earlier to return to Jerusalem. They know he wants them to stay there waiting for the Holy Spirit to come to them, and so they go, and I will bet it wasn’t with dread or sadness over the past, but with joyful anticipation for what is next. Of course they were grown men, so it might not have been with giggles, but I kind of believe that they were on their way with smiles, even though Jesus had just left them.

If we look at the words from I Peter we read that Peter told the early Christians to rejoice that they were sharing in the suffering of Christ because they would then be able to shout for joy when he returns. Nothing could be truer than that statement. Think about it, no matter how bad things get, and I suppose the worse they get, the more we will shout in for the return of Christ to end the suffering and the agony. And this is true if we actually live to the age of his return or if it is the day that he comes for us alone. In truth, that day will be one of great joy for us as Christians.

The remaining verses in Peter give us some advice for the in-between time. Two things stand out for me. The first is the idea that we should cast all of our cares, all of our anxieties on Christ, and the second is that we should keep ourselves alert for the evil powers which exist in that world that would keep us from what is right, from what Christ wants of us. I love that image of the devil prowling the earth around looking for someone to devour, as if he were some giant swamp creature or the abominable snowman. Maybe it is those sorts of images that make us think there is no such evil power in the world. Perhaps if we thought more of a cunning and conniving con-artist sort of creature, maybe then we would be more likely to believe that there is a power that works to perpetuate evil in the world. Peter’s point in essence is that we need to keep our faith and trust in Christ and God will take care of us.

Exactly! For God to take care of us is just what Jesus prays for in the verses that we read in John 17. This passage is known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. It is his prayer for the disciples and his prayer for us. He offers it to God shortly before he is betrayed and crucified. In it, Jesus asks for God to take care of his disciples and give them the task of completing the work he has started so that his work will not have been in vain. I know we can all understand that concept of hoping that what we do is not in vain, I can’t imagine how much Jesus felt the need to make sure his work would be finished by faithful disciples. And in many ways that means us as much as the original 12.

Tomorrow many of the communities in our country will be celebrating Memorial Day. We will gather to honor the men and women who served in our military and especially those who died while in service to secure and protect the freedoms that we have. As much as some of us might disagree about which freedoms we should embrace or exercise and how much we should value any or all of them, if we were to give up any bit of those freedoms, we would be essentially telling those who served and sacrificed especially those who died that what they gave up was not important. We would be telling them that their sacrifice no matter how big or small was really all in vain. I know that I couldn’t do it, and I am pretty sure none of you would be able to do it either, to tell a Veteran that their service was worthless.

I know that what Christ did for all of us was so much more than any of us could do for another, yet isn’t it written that the greatest love a person can have is to lay down their life for another? Each Memorial Day as we gather to honor our country’s fallen soldiers, we do that to ensure that none of them died in vain, that none of them sacrificed their lives or physical or mental well being or even their time without it being worth something.

Jesus in his final prayer to his Father in heaven, as he is about to leave his human existence, asks that his work, his time on earth not be without meaning. His prayer is that God look after the disciples that were given to him, so that they will be able not just to fulfill the work Jesus started, but that they will complete it and in doing that they will also experience the joy that Jesus knew while being about that work.

Of course we also read this to refer to us as believers and disciples in our own way and time. Jesus wants us to continue his mission of spreading his gospel, his love all the way to the ends of the earth, and while we do that he wants us to have the same rewards of knowing him and knowing the joy of eternity that he asked God to give to the original disciples.

At the end of the gospel lesson we read for today, we come across the words: “that they may be one.” A bit further into the chapter in verse 21, we see those words again with just a little twist. In verse 21 it is written, “That they may all be one.” That is the verse picked to be the motto of our wider church. Jesus wants that for us, that we would be one with each other as he and the Father are one, united and working together as soldiers in the trenches, and perhaps to put it in language I understand better, as members of a team, who all have the same goal. That they may all be one.

Jesus asks God to protect his disciples, the 12 that were closest to him, and all who have come to believe in him. He also asks that all his disciples could be one as he and the father are one. To me that means we should learn to love each other in a deep, intensely joyful, Christian love. This love is not restricted by family or gender or skin color or culture or economic status, but it is a love as Christ loves. Christ wants us to be one, to be open and accepting and caring for each other in the same way that Christ and God love each other.

I really believe that when we are willing to open ourselves up to that attitude and when we are willing to take up the task of helping the gospel to spread to the ends of the earth, we will know the love and peace and joy of Christ, and when we do, we will also be able to experience the kind of happiness that makes our sides hurt from laughing. Go this week living in the moment and experiencing the joy of Christ. Amen!

Happy Mother’s Day Message

I was pondering not putting this message on the blog, but I guess…. First off, I messed up the scriptures when I went to put the message together. I was in II Peter rather than I Peter as the lectionary suggested. Next I may have talked about my own family in ways that might not be appealing to all. Fortunately I tend to go off script, so what is here was not exactly what they heard. Let’s just say we had a jovial time again this morning and most of it was because I shared the truth about my own life. May you find some spark of truth and a real message in this, mixed up as it might be.

The scriptures for today were listed as: Acts 7:55-60, I Peter 2:1-10 (actually based it on II Peter 2:1-10) and John 14:1-14. Our title was, “Honoring Mothers.”

Let’s just start with what to me was the obvious oxymoron here today. When I opened up the desk calendar in the office and looked at the lectionary suggestions, I was a little stunned. I don’t understand fully how the powers that be don’t do some coordinating between the secular calendar year and the scriptures of the lectionary. This is Mother’s Day for goodness sakes and the scripture lessons somehow don’t seem to have anything at all to do with anything about honoring your mother. The verses in the gospel of John are more likely to be something you would hear at a funeral, and the writings in I Peter are instructions to tell Christians how to keep away from those who would lead you astray and the story in Acts is just too gruesome to even think about. Stephen who was not even one of the inner circle of disciples in his zeal to share the story of Christ ends up as the first martyr when a mob stones him while Saul AKA Paul watches in approval.

Actually, one of the first times I ever used the John 14 verses at a funeral was at Verna Schock’s, and I thought I was going to NOT like the one daughter-in-law very much. I wanted to read verses 1-6 or even to 7, but she told me I had to stop at verse 3. Interestingly as I was checking the “sermon seeds” in my email for this week, the write-up mentioned that too many people take this passage and only focus on verse 6. So, it got me to looking at the whole thing, especially the opening a bit closer. And there it is in the opening three verses, we hear those final words, the final instructions that Jesus is giving to his disciples before he leaves them, and here is where we can begin to realize the thread between these stories and this celebration of mothers.

First off before we go any further with this, let’s just stop and remember that in some of our past discussions, I have noticed that our wider church is more likely to set today as a celebration of the family, not just the mothers. Personally, I am ok with having a day for Mothers and another for Fathers. It gives a second opportunity for children to be guilted into remembering all the things their parents have ever done for them. I mean really in some homes everyday is children’s day. I am pretty sure if you check with my oldest two daughters that was not the case at our house, at least not where I was involved. But on the other hand they will be sure to tell you that things changed when the third one came along. Let me just say the jury is still out on how things will work for them with their children. For now I am noticing that there is little to no grown up television or movies to be seen when you enter their homes, and even Jessica has started checking in with cartoon channels while she is feeding and rocking one of the twins. Not so much at Grandma’s house.

One more personal note then I will get back to the lessons from the scriptures. This past Thursday I found a pair of matching coffee mugs that I just had to buy for those two “slighted” daughters. The writing on the side said, “Sometimes when I open my mouth, my mother comes out.” I believe they will notice that more and more as they age, whether they like it or not, many of us have been there for me it is more and more each day.

So what is the thread of Motherhood and mothers that comes from these scripture lessons. The one in second Peter could almost be compared to a mother lecturing her teenager as he or she is walking out the door. Last night was prom in Linton and we drove up to watch grand march. We attended somewhat because my niece Elisabeth was in it since her boyfriend is from there, and we also went as coaches just to let them know we are aware of where they are and that we are thinking of them. There were no lectures in practice on Friday, but plenty on Monday when they had their Jr/Sr banquet and that is sometimes reason for concern.

Some people might think that children/teenagers should be allowed to make their own decisions and especially their own mistakes. I would rather go along with the words of Peter as he spoke to the early Christians telling them about the false teachers that will try to infiltrate them, and how God was not so lenient with the angels who rose up against heaven, and even the story about the days of Noah and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yes, God is a loving God, but as Peter points out, those incidences of rebellion and disregard for God’s laws were not tolerated. And we probably all know well that Mothers, too have their limits, and when they set them it is with the safety and well being of their children in mind.

Now of the three passages we read today, I think the text in John is the easiest to relate to the actions and the love of a mother. This chapter is part of that long narrative in John about the final night Jesus is with the disciples before he is betrayed and arrested. Chapter 13 begins with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, then there is the last supper and in this chapter Jesus tells his disciples that he is going back to his father’s house to prepare a place for them. What a wonderful promise. He was going back to his home, to get a place ready for them and then he promises to return again to bring them to that house to live with him. Now it didn’t happen immediately and not all at once, but in their order each of the disciples was welcomed home to the place that was prepared just for them. And the great thing about this story is that it is meant for each of us in just that same way.

Let’s stop and think about this for a minute. How many of us have gotten our homes ready for someone to come and stay? At our place it becomes a major operation, especially at this time of year when the dust has piled so high on some of the shelves that I can write my name in them, then there are the dust bunnies who are big enough and old enough to be named and demand pet beds, and we won’t even discuss the windows. My mother used to tell me she always knew my house because it was the only one on the block whose windows were not washed.

We will likely have all the children at our place for a short time in June and I am already getting nervous about how we will get everyone into a room let alone into a bed that isn’t piled high with junk. I have to admit that my grand plan to eliminate some of the clutter from the house around the time of Lent fell by the way side after the first bag went out the door. Hopefully this summer there will be a little more cooperation from my hoarder self on this business of letting go.

Considering the sort of preparation we as humans go through to invite someone to a stay over visit, or the act of helping someone move into a new or different home, it is sort of hard to consider Christ telling us that he is going to prepare a place for us to live. This really doesn’t strike me as God’s work, to provide a home for us, yet that is what Jesus promises. “If it were not so, would I have told you…” If we as human parents stress and fuss and work to provide a place for our children to come to stay or even help them to find a spot to live, how much more do you suppose Christ has worked to provide a home for us, a place for us to join him in paradise?

Now the story from Acts almost seems like it should just be ignored in this discussion about honoring our mothers. How can we possibly see any sort of nurturing, mothering, loving story in this horrible account of a group of people turning into a mob that stones a man to death, and what about the man who stands quietly by holding their coats and allows them to do it? The horror of it just seems too much to even think about. The thread here comes from the words of Stephen as he is being stoned when he looks to the heavens and prays, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” His final words were much like those of Jesus who in his final words said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the same sort of love that mothers have for their children.

OK, yes there are times when we want to shake our fist and give them the Peanuts gang version of Lucy, “I will give you five reasons” and there are those exceptions of mothers who are more involved with things that are harmful–alcohol and drug abuse and such, but when you think of a loving and a caring, nurturing mother, you hear the same sort of words that Jesus and Stephen used in forgiving the mobs.

Mothers and fathers both want what is best for their children. They want a life that is better than the one they had, but the best that any of us can give our children is the story of Christ’s love for us. I am sure we would all agree that the best we can do for our children is not just to give them our love, but to give them the opportunity to share in God’s love.

And if any of you have not had a call or a card or a notice from someone today, let me say to all of you Happy Mother’s Day from me. In looking up the word mother I found such definitions as a woman exercising control, influence or authority, someone who is the origin, source or protector, to that I would add someone who nurtures or cares for another, regardless of gender. As I look around our congregation, I see, so many examples of ways we act as those descriptions for each other and it doesn’t matter our gender. Maybe that is who we are as a congregation, maybe that is what it means to be the church for each other. As we leave today on this beautiful Mothers’ Day, let’s remember to be that person who loves others just as Jesus did. And let’s reach out to others as our mothers would reach out to us. Amen!

Recognizing Jesus

This was my message last Sunday. The scriptures used were: Acts 2:14a, 36-41, I Peter 1:17-23 and Luke 24:13-35. The title was as posted above, and the message was about the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus and how we meet Jesus on the roads of our lives. Below is the script of what was presented, though I can’t guarantee that at times I was off a bit.

Some of you are aware that tomorrow, I am headed to a place called Ree Heights, SD. [Grrrrr, why didn’t I take a picture to add to this post?] According to the email directions that I received it is some place on Highway 14 between Highmore and Miller. Great! Not a problem, I have been on that road in the past, and the way roads are marked in South Dakota, this should be easy. But the hitch is that the meeting is not in Ree Heights. The meeting is in the country at Eagle Pass Lodge some 2.1 miles off the highway on a non-paved surface north of Highway 14 going north and curving east and following along and the other piece of information that Marva was able to glean off the internet for me was that there are NO road signs for this place, so keep close track of your mileage. As much as I use the internet to find songs or search out the answer to my questions, I don’t use GPS. I guess, sadly, in this day and age, I am just so old fashioned that I still believe in road maps.

Speaking of road maps, I have a quick story. About 10 years ago when Jessica was interning in Washington DC, she had to come home in the middle of the summer for a wedding.  So because of the cost of the trip, she decided to fly into the airport in Minneapolis, and she thought Victoria (who was maybe 19) should come and get her, alone. Well, I went along. The short version is we missed the exit for the airport and ended up in some little tiny out of the way area. The business section had boarded up gas stations and the restaurants were brick buildings with no windows and let’s just say none were familiar chain restaurants or anything to do with sausage or Knepfla and sauerkraut. We were in some really unfamiliar territory and didn’t know how to start finding our way back. We had a cell phone and I called my brother-in-law, Bruce for help. He knew Minneapolis fairly well, and with his knowledge and an internet search he was able to get us turned around and to the airport in time to meet her plane. Let’s just say it was scary, and I am pretty sure this trip tomorrow will be nothing like that one.

Our gospel lesson today is also about a trip. It is about a couple of disciples or the term should probably be followers because these two were not part of the inner circle of 12 which is now 11. They were on a trip on the third day after the death of Jesus, the same day that his tomb has been found empty. Unlike the two trips that I mentioned, they are going to a place they know. They are headed to Emmaus, which interestingly is one of those cities that the “experts” have not exactly located. I say interesting because when you study literature when a place is not specifically on the map it can translate to be Anyplace.

Not the best road, but a typical road here in the winter.

So these two followers of Jesus are traveling a road, well walking actually, on a road they have been on before to a place they have been before, but the difference for them is that they are going this time with a very different frame of mind. This time they are traveling with great sorrow in their heart and probably a bit of fear for their own lives. I will admit that during that drive into unknown territory in Minneapolis, I was more than a little scared. Victoria was driving and I just kept telling her where to turn and, I pretty much remember, saying don’t stop, don’t pull over just keep driving. These two men are walking along and recounting the events of the past few days, the past week, maybe especially the news from early this morning when their leader’s tomb has been found empty and they are wondering what is to happen next, and they meet up with a stranger.

Even stranger to their ears is the notion that this person has no idea of what they are discussing. This stranger seems to them to be the only person in existence who has no knowledge of the drama they are discussing. How can someone be in this vicinity and be so clueless? How can anyone possibly be on this road and not know that Jesus was crucified and now he is missing? As the story goes the three men travel along together until evening and then the stranger wants to go on his own way, but the two disciples insist that he stay and eat with them and that is where they recognize Jesus.

The point of this story for us today is not so much about the journey and knowing where we are going, or not know where we going as was the case in either of the two stories I mentioned in the beginning. The point for us is about recognizing Jesus, about recognizing the opportunities to be present with Christ in our everyday lives. Where is it in our lives that we have the occurrence, to be on this road with Jesus?

This feels like one of those tough, open-ended essay questions where the answer key says, “Answers will vary.” And the joke goes that the new teacher counts everyone’s wrong because she is expecting them all to write, “Answers will vary.”

How do we recognize Jesus when we are out walking the road of our lives? The truth is that Jesus is all around us, all the time. He comes and meets us on our road to Emmaus just as he met the disciples. It is a road we know, but it is also a road that holds lots of emotions. It varies from day to day. One day it is a road on which we are struggling, maybe in sorrow, maybe in frustration because things are not going as we think they should be. Some days it might be a road where we are rejoicing because of any number of blessings in our lives. The fact is that when Jesus meets us, he reassures us, he builds us up, and he gives us purpose, and rejoices with us. And we recognize Christ when we have a relationship with him. We recognize him when we take the time to let ourselves be drawn closer to Christ in prayer, in worship, in song and in the way we live our lives.

And hopefully we come to know that the encounter with Jesus is not really all about us, though sometimes when we are hurting that is what we need it to be. But the deeper the relationship we have, the more we begin to realize that looking outside of ourselves is really how we find Christ. I am not quite sure how to put this, but it seems to me that the more we come to know Christ and the more we travel with him, the more we realize that the journey should never end with it being about us. The time we spend together is about listening and learning so that we can be built up, and can be strengthen so that we are able to continue Christ’s message of love for this world.

We see from reading to the end of the gospels that Jesus did not stay with the disciples after the resurrection. He didn’t come back to be with them and continue their ministry physically, but he stayed with them and stays with us spiritually, and he continues on the journey with us as we meet others. That spirit that has been left with us is there to empower us as we encounter others. What is the line?…When you did it to the least of these, so you did it to me.

As we are strengthened by a closer relationship with Christ, we begin to recognize the needs around us. And did you notice where they were when the disciples realized who Jesus was? It was when they were sitting down to a meal that their eyes were opened to who he was. One interpretation of that might be that it is in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper that we find Christ. And another idea might be that it is in simple ordinary, everyday tasks when we encounter Christ. Did we offer someone a glass of water, a cup of coffee, to join us in a meal? Did we open someone’s door or help them with a task they couldn’t do alone? Did we listen to a friend in need? I am so starting to understand the importance of that simple deed of listening, even and especially when we think we are way too busy doing something of great importance.

The last thing I want to mention today is the text from the book of Peter. In this passage Peter is trying to explain to the early Christians the importance of treating each other up with the same love that Christ had for them. The churches were facing conflicts both from inside themselves and from outside of their circle of Christians. Historically I can understand the conflict that the early church faced from outsiders, but I always had this notion of them being really together as a group. Yet I suppose they were all looking to take leadership control, and I guess if you consider it, that is how conflicts inside a church can happen.

But instead of arguing or demanding their behavior to be a certain way, Peter simply reminded them all to love as Christ loved them, and he said they were to love, deeply. The real meaning of the Greek word at this point is not deep as like a deep hole, but instead the word is more like strenuous or sustained, like a long distance run. Peter is talking about a persistent love, a love that will not let go. Peter reminds us that Christ wants us to keep on loving even when it seems that there is no hope. Peter told the believers and us when we see situations of conflict that we are to love because God is at work in the situation, and we are not to be discouraged or drug in other directions.

This week as we set out on our journey to wherever Emmaus is for us, I pray we are able to carry the spirit of Christ with us and recognize the needs Christ sets before us to be filled, and mostly I pray that we be filled with the deep love that God gives us, so we are able to share that love with those we meet. Let’s go today with our eyes opened wide to see the risen Christ in our world. Amen!

And for an update, the trip was wonderful! Three of us traveled together and shared information and stories on the way there and back. The meeting was uplifting and supportive and we were approved for another year, and so all was good. For those of you who took the time to stop and read through this message, I pray God’s blessing on you!!

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