Message on Sunday, Nov. 5: Our dedication Sunday

The scriptures used were: Matthew 23:1-12, I Thessalonians 2:9-13 and Micah 3:5-12. The title of the message was, “Humble Service.” Again, this was my written script, but probably not exactly what was said.Those of you who know me very well know that one of my favorite television shows is The Voice. It might be because I like listening to music, and it might be because it was a show that James and Paulina and I watched together during that time when we were living in Linton, and it reminds me of what was a much simpler time in our lives.

One of the mainstays of that series is Blake Sheldon, and he has recently come out with a new album. He was on the Today Show on Halloween as a surprise concert singer, and he sang one, of his new songs, which is about thinking back in time to a simpler life, and the underlying issue was that the speaker of the song was really talking about being poor. I don’t know if he wrote it, or if someone wrote it for him, but before he sang it, he told the audience to listen closely to the words. Later that day I read the Upper Room devotional, and it was about a woman whose family had been homeless, and she wrote about how she was so ashamed of being around people because she was afraid they would recognize that she had once stood on a street corner begging for food.

It made me stop to think of all the stories, especially the frontier and the immigrant stores, which I have read over the years about people who struggled financially and eventually made it through to better times. Maybe I noticed these things more this week because I have been binging on those Hallmark Christmas movies, but it seems that at this time of year, those stories of tough times are just so much more in your face, so much more poignant, and maybe for me, so much more special. Maybe it is because I can relate to those stories with some of my own experiences, at different times in my life. OK, so not the homelessness part, but there have been times that have been struggles. Of course it could be because I, at least, am anticipating the coming weeks when we begin to reread, relearn, relive that very special story about a couple who went to Bethlehem with only a donkey for transportation then had to sleep in a stable where the oh so young woman delivered a baby on a bed of hay.

I think that tendency of mine to dwell on the specialness of those times drives some of my family members, especially my children crazy. I just can’t get over the idea that Christmas gifts shouldn’t be all about how much you spend and who gets the fanciest, newest thing. I do think that I read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books about how they survived Christmas way too many times, especially the parts about how their father would make something in the barn as a surprise for their mother, or she would sew the girls a rag doll from fabric scraps with button eyes as a treat. Of course if I would have ever gotten one of those sort of things finished, I think my girls might have appreciated it, but with me it is always on the “to do” list and never quite wrapped up finished and under the tree by the time we open gifts.

Humble times might make for better stories, for fonder memories for some of us. I think it is because the things we earned or were given during those times came with more sweat and more work on our part, and that is why they are cherished more. I just believe that things that come too easily are not appreciated quite as much. Maybe I am off base, but that is how my brain works and that is why it makes me think that part of what Jesus was telling the Pharisees is that they need to be more humble in their attitudes. And especially they need to do more for what they have and expect a little less from those around them. It seems they have this sickening air of entitlement around them.

We have talked about this passage before, about how the Pharisees were so interested in their place in society, and how much they earned both in terms of monetary compensation and in terms of status and respect and ability to wield power over others that they failed to fulfill the position that they had been granted as the spiritual leaders of the people. It reminds me of the favorite saying of my aunt’s father who used to say, “They are so religious, they forgot God.” Hopefully none of us knows anyone like that, or that none of us ever becomes like that. In verse 5 of Matthew 23 that we read today, Jesus is quoted as saying, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.”

So, I couldn’t stand it anymore, I did an image search for a phylactery, and it is this little square thing that looks like a toy box. It is worn on the top of the head and held on with a strap sort of like putting a little box on a leather strap that you wear as a headband. The fringes are the tassels that come out of your scarf, which they put over their head and it is long enough to come down onto their shoulders. At this point I put on a visual aid to give a better idea of what I meant. I am guessing that the longer fringes and the larger phylacteries were a little more spendy, and so it showed that they had more money and status, they were better than the other poorer people. They could afford more. It reminds me a little of A Christmas Carol when Bob Cratchit’s family had to settle for a stuffed goose for Christmas until old Scrooge opened up his purse strings and bought them a magnificent turkey.

Matthew ends this passage by giving us Jesus’ words, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Today I can’t help but think of just how much the Pharisees had. I don’t just mean in status or money or power, but in learning. They had the manuscripts, they had the law, and the words passed down from Moses. They had the temple with all of its; what we would today call artifacts, they were rich if not by their monetary standards alone, but they were rich in the history and the academics of their faith. They had it all, and yet they ignored it for their own self importance. They had so much to share with the people who came to the temple and all they were concerned about was if the people who came there were giving enough money to the coffers. The Pharisees were only thinking about how the people could benefit them.

I guess that is where the reading from Micah fits. He warns of the ruin that will come on the people of Jerusalem as he speaks of the prophets who do not carry out the directions that God gives to them. Instead they only pretend to do their duty when they are compensated or bribed, and there is nothing just or fair about what they do.

Paul is careful in his letter to the Thessalonians to remind the church there that when he was with them, he did not expect compensation for teaching them the gospel or about the love of Christ, but instead worked with them to earn the food they ate and the shelter they shared. That is a theme we read often in the letters of Paul, that the leaders are not to lift themselves up above the status of the people, but instead are to be teachers that work with the people in learning about the love and sacrifice that Christ offers up in order for us all to be brothers and sisters in God’s kingdom. Before his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was likely one of those Pharisees, who wore phylacteries and long fringes, but because of God’s call and revelation to him, he was changed and understood the truth about how he acted and how he needed to act. Paul was humbled.

Quilts completed in 2017

Today as we offer up the quilts that we have finished off with our hands to be given to those in need, and as we dedicate the door that has been newly purchased and those that have been repainted, we offer them not in the spirit of our own goodness and status, but in humility that God would look on us as participating in the spirit of being “the church.” As we go through the rest of this month, Mission Fest and Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks then Advent and the Christmas Season right around the corner, may we enter this time in a spirit of humble service for our God.

I have been trying to think of fresh new ways to celebrate the upcoming holidays, and I believe the scripture lessons of today may have helped me understand better which direction or at least how to look at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The story should not be about how many presents are piled under the tree or how much food is piled on top of the table. The real meaning of the season is sharing the love that God has bestowed on us with all of those around us. And sometimes that sharing means a smile, and sometimes it means a meal or a blanket. Mostly it means that we walk humbly with God and share the love that Christ has for us all. Let’s remember to add that to our list of things to do this upcoming holiday season. Amen!

Idols and Refusing God’s Invitation

Here is the message I shared on Sunday, October 15, 2017. The scriptures were: Exodus 32:1-14, Isaiah 25:1-10a and Matthew 22:1-14. I had another one listed, but saved its reading until the end of the message so it is printed there. The title in the bulletin was, “Called/Chosen.”

Today we are taken back to another parable that puts a bad light on the Israelites. The passage in Matthew 22 that we read for today on the surface is about a King throwing a wedding feast for his son and no one wants to come. This story seems to go against the idea of weddings in the time of Jesus. A wedding feast by a wealthy family would involve lots of food and festivities and would likely go on for days. It was a big deal and people would make sure to be there if not to only to celebrate the wedding, but to have an opportunity to take part in the feast and hopefully build or strengthen some important ties with the one throwing the celebration. Come to think of it, some of that might still hold true today.

The allegory, the deeper meaning behind the parable, is the idea that God has chosen the Israelites to be his people. He is basically inviting them to the wedding feast of eternity in heaven, the opportunity to be his heirs forever, and they reject the invitation, they reject the idea of being with God. And worst of all they do more than turn their backs and ignore the invitations, they do some evil things to the servants sent with the invitations, and the scripture tells us that God did retaliate on those originally on the invitation list. Thus God sends his servants, his prophets, his own son eventually to call anyone and everyone else to come to the feast, to join at the table (an idea we celebrate as the table of Holy Communion—which we participated in last Sunday). God also invites us, all of us to come and participate in this wedding celebration.

The other major part of our discussion today is that business in Exodus where the Israelites get tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain and they insist that Aaron make them a God to worship and Aaron obliges by taking all their gold and melting it down and making a golden calf which they call Baal to worship.

First off in this story, I want to know what is wrong with Aaron. Is he that much of a wimp that he can’t convince the people to just chill a little? The readings that I did this week were far more sympathetic of the people of Israel than I had ever heard messages spoken in the past. I have pictures in my head of this story that involve dancing and music and people doing all sorts of immoral things in relation to celebrating this god, this idol, Baal. The more I think about it, I might be thinking of the old Hollywood version of The Ten Commandments. In light of some of the stories coming from that area lately, I won’t add any comments here.

If we look closely at the wording of the passage in Exodus 32, we see just two things that would give a Hollywood producer this idea. One is the verse where it says after the calf was made, they gathered up items for a thank-offering then sat down to eat, and after they ate, they got up to revel. Later there is a verse where God tells Moses to hurry down the mountain because the people have gotten involve in perverse actions.

The commentary from the Sermon Seeds on the UCC website suggests that the people should not be judged so harshly, at least not by us. The author mentions several theologians who see the Israelites in the desert without Moses as being scared, terrified even. They have been wandering about for years, almost going in circles, and they don’t know what is coming next then their leader who has been their go-between always interpreting the words of God for them, is just gone. He goes up the mountain and there is no word, no message, no communication of any kind, and they are worried that he is not coming back.

They are a lost people, and they just want some sort of proof that God exists and that God will be there for them. They want a structure a solid piece of something to let them know that even without Moses, they will be cared for and protected. I suppose that is not anymore than any of us want in our lives: Proof that we are loved and cared for and protected. Let’s see how does that hierarchy of needs chart go that we learn in education? First is the basic needs of food and shelter, second is safety needs, third there is the need for belonging and love.

The Israelites were so worried about what they would do without Moses, without their leader that they reacted badly. They were so caught up in their own issues, that they turned their backs on the one God who was with them in all things. And in their turning away from God, they got involved in idol worship. They turned to something else to be their God. I have to ask myself, how different am I from those Israelites? How different are we from those Israelites?

This historical accounting of the actions of the Hebrew people when they are in the desert between escaping slavery at the hands of the Egyptians and finally finding their homeland, and the parable that tells about all of the people who reject the invitation of the king who is throwing a wedding feast for his son are not that far off from each other and from the actions of ourselves and those around us. We all have our own idols that prevent us from worshiping the one true God. We all have excuses and reasons not to accept the invitation of the King and join in the wedding celebration of his Son and the church, we the church. Even those of us who are faithful church goers have our days, even those of us who are here faithfully each week, we have times when we are not quite sure, when life doesn’t seem just in line, and we get worried about what will we do without our Moses to guide us and interpret for us, and how can we possibly do it ourselves? We need something real, something to give us security and safety. We need our idols, to feel like God is here. Right?

Actually we shouldn’t need idols, but I am afraid we probably all have had some along the way in our lives. Now as we hear and use the word idol, we often, I at least, would think that doesn’t pertain to us. We don’t have statues in our churches, on our public places, in our homes that we bow to like some ancient people did or maybe some still do. We don’t have that, so why do we even consider that sort of thing in a church message today?

It seems our idols are a little different in nature. Our idols are not really those statues that you bow to, but more the sort of thing that takes up our time and our thoughts and blocks our ability to have a real and personal relationship with God. We become too busy for God or the actions we are asked to do for God: love our neighbors as ourselves sort of thing because we have these “idols” taking up our time. Of course the one thing that most people believe is the ultimate idol in our time is money. We spend so much time chasing around after wealth for the sake of financial security that we don’t even realize that we are doing it. Perhaps what we need to consider is what we do with our wealth, our form of riches. Do we use it to care for those who are truly in need? Do we share what we have, even if it is a cup of cold water? There are lots of other things that can be our idols in this day and time. Maybe it is the job or the business that we pursue to get this wealth?

Maybe it is the leisure activities—whatever their natures that prevent us from any sort of time to spend in worship or in devotion or in prayer talking to and listening to God. The question for us today is probably not obsessed, but perhaps with what are we so consumed that we don’t have time to work at our own relationship with God? What do we have in our way that makes it impossible or even just a little difficult for us to know the peace of Christ that peace that surpasses everything else? What did we hear in the verses from Isaiah today? We heard about the great power of God to destroy evil, to shelter those in need and to wipe away every tear from our eyes. Why or what could we possibly find in our lives to prevent us from having a relationship with someone who promises to do that for us?

I want to give you one last thing today. At the end of that parable it mentions that when the servants went back to the streets and invited all of the commoners to the feast, to the wedding—which in essence meant the Gentiles, the non Israelites, what includes us too, after they came and the banquet hall was filling up, the King came and noticed that one of those who had been called came to the banquet, but did not ready themselves as expected, and that person was not allowed to stay. “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Harsh words! It was sort of like a formal event, and the person came in jeans. What the king, what God was looking for what God is looking for is someone who when they accept God’s invitation they make the effort to develop that relationship with God through worship and study and prayer.

My best comparison is to a sports team, many are called to participate, but only a few are chosen to get on the field. To be part of the team line up, the ones who actually play, you have to work at it. Having a relationship with God is something we should always be working at. Putting aside our idol worship, putting aside the things that prevent us from having that intense personal relationship with God takes an effort. What I am trying to explain  is that there isn’t anything about our lives that we shouldn’t be able to stop and take a time to share it with God in prayer. There isn’t anything too trivial, too silly, too personal that God doesn’t hear us and care about us. But we have to put aside whatever it is that is preventing us from going there. And I believe that God answers us, we just have to be looking and listening to hear those words. Now let us close with the words that Paul left for the Philippians in chapter 4:4-9. Read it.

God wants us to put aside the idols that are preventing us from accepting the invitation sent for us. I hope we are able to do that so we too can enjoy that great feast that has been prepared with us in mind. Amen.

Message for Sunday, Oct 8, 2017

Following is the script of the message that I shared on Sunday. The scriptures were: Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 3:1b-14, and Matthew 21:33-46 and the title was, “Love inside the Hatred.” I did go into story telling mode for most of it, but there were some parts that I gave word for word. The script you see is the intent of the message. We also celebrated World Communion Sunday since I was gone last week when we were supposed to celebrate it. Somehow the lectionary that went with communion seemed to fit this message perfectly. I always know God’s hand is in the day when that happens. So here is the message…

On Monday morning when I turned on the television before getting up for school, I sat in the bed and wondered when can we quit having to pray for victims of violence? Yes, I am talking about the unfathomable destruction of the man who decided to do whatever needed to be done to allow him to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. When I got to school that morning, there was a short all-staff meeting. The superintendent was visibly shaken and he wanted to tell us why and how to address the concerns of some of the students.

His wife’s sister and husband had been at the concert and though they were fine physically, they were upset about what they had been through. They had to crawl out of the concert over some of the victims and when they finally got to their rooms they realized that they were covered in blood from those shot around them. We also learned that there were members of the community including one set of parents in Las Vegas, though no one was sure if they had attended the concert, and we knew some of the students would have questions.

Seriously, I can understand—I am not saying it is right—but I can understand when someone is angry at another person, and they seek revenge on that person or others like that person, or on society as a whole because they were wronged, or at least they think they are wronged. I get that. I am able to—in my mind find an acceptance for that sort of violence. I also get it when someone is so warped that they find pleasure in killing whether it is human or animal. I understand that some people are just evil. I am not trying to be funny here, but we need to realize that God gives everyone an opportunity to turn away from sin and sinful choices, but there are some who are not going to make that choice no matter what. We need to understand that it isn’t God giving up or creating evil, or even choosing that person for evil. It is the person, the human who has made the choice to follow the way that is not from God.

In terms of the events last Sunday, what we may never know is why. And except for maybe being able to help someone else in the future to make a different choice, I am not so sure it matters that we know why. What I know is that somehow inside this horror that comes sandwiched in between these natural disasters of one hurricane piled on top of another, we might want to stop and try to figure out where we fit and how it is that we can make some sort of difference in our world. And I think I have some ideas.

This gospel lesson that we are given today seems more like it was written by some 16th century British author than one of the writers of the Bible. John Bunyan and Pilgrims’ Progress comes to mind. One commentary that I read even suggested that it should not be discussed as it is written in Matthew in-depth because of its anti-Semitic implications and instead the focus should be more on the poor tenant farmers and their abuse by the rich land owners. Let me just say that as a land owner myself, I take a bit of an offense to that version. I don’t particularly agree with either sort of stereotype. What if instead we look at this story as it is presented and then look at the meaning that Matthew suggests?

We have a landowner who rents his fields to some tenants. He is obviously rich or living away or both since he sends his servant, not once but several times, to collect the rent money. The tenants, though, don’t really want to pay and instead they beat up or kill the servants when they come. The owner decides that the tenants need a stronger voice and so he sends his son, his heir, but instead of heeding him, they kill him thinking that if there is no heir, they will be able to keep the land for themselves. Personally I don’t think these tenants are very bright. Not only will they lose their ability to rent this land, but they won’t be renting any land because the evidence against them is so strong they will surely pay for their crimes. To me they sound like the proverbial dumb crooks.

So the allegory part is where some theologians get nervous. If we go through this and identify the tenants as the people of Israel, they see it as making it ok for all Christians to ostracize and condemn and even do hateful things to the Jewish people. Perhaps I am naïve, but I don’t see the disciples as intending that in their writing. Let’s look at this allegory in a historical way. It seems the tenants are the people of Israel and the servants are the prophets like maybe Elijah who was sent to the wilderness, or Isaiah who was sawed in half, why didn’t I know that before? Or even John the Baptist, ok I knew he was beheaded by King Herod, and the son is Jesus who was crucified, and the land owner is God. Somehow I get the feeling that the tenants are more like the Jewish leaders than the common Israelites. What happens to the tenants in the end is that the land is taken from them. What happens to the Israelites is that the promise of being the children of God is no longer just for them, but is now given to the Gentiles too.

We could perhaps side track and talk about some of the current political issues happening in the Middle East at the dictates of the leaders of Israel. One of the resolutions brought to General Synod this summer was in regard to the way the nation of Israel through its police force and its military targets the Palestinian children taking them from their homes and families for whatever reason just because they can. The truth of the matter is that people of all faiths, or all races, or all ages and genders can be cruel. We all have the ability to get caught up in the frenzy of the world around us. We are all able to get angry with those who seem to do us wrong, or those who want to do things in ways that we don’t think is right or the way we like, and any one of us can get fed up with the far away land owner who is constantly nagging at us about the “rent” about what is due to them from us. And maybe we don’t get so upset that we kill the one who come to collect, or maybe we don’t get so out of control that we hole up in a hotel room and open fire on a concert full of people, but maybe sometimes we shoot out our anger or frustration in other ways. I know I have a time or two.

It seems to me that the real lesson in this parable is the love that God has for his creation, for all people the Israelites and the Gentiles. Perhaps that parable was spoken as a warning to the Jewish leaders at the time, but those words are for all of us. As creatures of God’s world, we are all expected to be good tenants in the way that we treat others, in the way that we show Christ’s love to the world. At the very least what the tenants did to those who came to collect the rent was bad hospitality. At the worst it was against the teaching of Christ who said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

One of the things that I have come to realize over the past few weeks of this long-term substituting stint is that everyone, and that means fellow teachers as well as each student, has their own story, their own problems, their own heartaches, and what they need most of all is to feel that someone cares. The position I have been covering is in the K-12 resource room, the special education room, and thankfully there are two very good para-professionals there who know all of the ins and outs, or I would be lost. What I have come to realize with the students is that everyone just needs someone to care, to listen, and maybe even to help them out every now and then. Sometimes they need a little more help and sometimes a little less.

This week the UCC website had more information on the 3 Great Loves initiative. It also has information on how and where to send information on what we as a church are doing to participate in that initiative. I actually looked at it in terms of “well what do we talk about first?” We might want to count what we send off here soon for the hurricane relief, maybe we write-up something about the quilts we have nearly finished, or perhaps we wait and include what we do at Mission Fest, and then what about the school supplies we dropped off in August. All those things are good, but what we probably don’t mention, is what we do every day with everyone we meet or work with. Every time we treat someone with respect and courtesy and with God’s love those are the times that we are really and truly fulfilling the expectations that God has for us as someone he wants to call his children. Let’s be that family this week and every week. Amen!

Sept. 11, 2017 Message to the Methodist Ladies Aid

I was asked a few weeks ago if I would speak to the Methodist Ladies Aid for their September bring a friend night. I agreed and since it was the 16th Anniversary of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon and the one that was maneuvered to a field in PA, I decided to do the following. Thoughts and prayers with the families of those who were lost on this day, including those who were misguided enough to instigate the attack.

Verse for this evening is: Isaiah 6:8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

I will start by giving you a little more information about myself: As many of you know, I was born right here in Eureka. My parents were Raymond and Patricia Knoepfle. I grew up on a farm south of Artas (here I mentioned by name those in the room who were close neighbors) and then in Herreid were I graduated from high school a few years back. I married James Haak who is from the Hull area which is a little south of Strasburg. We have lived in Eagle Butte, South Dakota and Jamestown, North Dakota before we moved back to Herreid.

When Mavis first called, I asked her what you were looking for in terms of a topic, and she more or less said whatever. After the second time she called and I agreed to come here, I hung up the phone and thought, what on earth will I say? But I do remember she hinted that maybe I could talk about how I came to be here at St. Paul’s at this time in my life.

Before I tell you anything else, I have to mention that I have just spent the last couple of days watching the coverage of the Hurricane in Florida and I don’t mean just the nightly news or a couple of hours of the coverage between doing this or that. I must be one, of the people, who gives that sort of coverage good ratings because I become glued to the television in events like that. I spent time watching the one in Houston too, but that coverage was not quite as intense. Anyway it reminded me of a few years ago watching the events of Katrina. And from there I began to think of all those other major events that have happened throughout the years.

So here is where I want to begin tonight. When I looked at the calendar, and I realized that today it is the 16th anniversary of the day when the planes flew into the towers in New York City and the Pentagon and the fourth plane which landed in a field in Somerset County, PA. It is safe to say that was the worst attack on the United States by outsiders since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This was one of those days that many of us will remember exactly where we were when we first heard about it. I remember that I was headed for the Prairie Pioneer office in Pollock and saw it on the Today Show as I was getting ready to leave. We heard about it only from reports on the radio the rest of the day because we had no TV in the office.

The more I got to thinking about this idea of where were you when, I started to think of other times other events that were so overwhelming that you always remember where you were when you heard about them.

Some that come to mind for me were:

Nov. 22, 63—JFK  I remember sitting on the couch watching my mother change my baby brother’s diaper as we watched the evening news report.

April 4, 68—MLKing, Jr. I was riding in car in the front between my mother and someone and we heard it on the car radio. I remember saying oh good and my mother asking what I meant and I sort of indicated that I thought we didn’t like people who were different, and I think maybe after that conversations were a little different, though maybe it was that I finally understood about accepting all people.

June 5, 68—Bobby Kennedy, I watched this on the little black and white TV in the kitchen of the farm house. It devastated me. I was just starting to understand politics and what he stood for, I was 11 and this was a big deal to me.

July of 1969 Moonwalk—Saw it on that same black/white small tv at the farm…I remember that some did not believe we were on the moon, some thought they were in a studio in the southwestern part of the US.

More recently, Aug. 31, 97 death of Princess Di I was out in the flower garden when I heard.

More personally, Dec. 31, 63, the death of my brother. I remember my father came screaming into the house when he found his body at the end of the silo’s auger.

Friday of Labor Day weekend in 1985. I was in Eagle Butte out on the football field with my PE class. The principal came and got me and said there was a phone call that I had to take. It was the news of the car accident 9 months and many surgeries later took away my grandmother Freda. I still dislike phone calls in school.

As I think about these dates and others that were memorable in my life or in anyone’s life, I wonder if we remember the day and the place where we were when we made a public or at least a conscious decision to follow Christianity. Do we know where we were when we decided to accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior? I remember attending Sunday School and especially I enjoyed vacation Bible School. A couple of weeks ago in church we sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” and that was always the song we sang walking in from the outside steps to the opening session. I remember having a day when I raised my hand during the opening session of VBS, and while the others went downstairs to their classes, I had a short meeting with the minister about what that meant to raise my hand and that I wanted to accept Christ, and we had a prayer and that was that.

Now what I experienced in VBS, is not something that we really do as part of our denomination. We normally leave that sort of soul searching and commitment for confirmation in our church. I went through confirmation classes as part of the Herreid Yoked Parish which included the Peace Lutheran Church the United Methodist Church and First Congregational where I was confirmed as a freshman in high school. Only the Lutheran Congregation is left there today.

Let me just say that church was always an important place for me. Besides what I have already shared, I always enjoyed helping out in our church as a youngster even if it was washing dished during after the meal we had at Mission Fest. Here I paused to explain how I was always about 10 years too young to have an opinion while being part of the women’s group, which was true in every place except Eagle Butte where young women were welcomed with open arms. I even told how I had been “taught” to make a ham bun for a funeral in Jamestown until I told the lady that my mother did catering and I had helped a time or two.

In high school I was part of youth group and as such was able to attend a National Luther League Convention in Houston at the AstroDome and that was a great experience, but don’t get me wrong, just because I was active in church, I wasn’t a goody two shoes, but I always felt a tug of some kind.

Later when I got to know the Bible better I was intrigued by the story of young Samuel in I Samuel chapter 3 when he kept hearing a voice and kept going into Eli asking what he wanted until Eli finally realized that Samuel was being called by God, and Eli told him to go back to his own room and the next time he heard the call to answer God and listen to what he was called to do.

College for me was Jamestown College [now University of Jamestown] a private Presbyterian College. I went there with the idea of being a teacher and a coach, and so I majored in Health, Physical Education and Recreation and joined the volleyball and track teams. It was the time of title IX and because I really liked sports, I thought this was what I would always want to do. Yet somehow that wasn’t enough and I also took a second major in Religion/Philosophy with the idea that maybe, someday, down the line, I would come back to that idea.

Over the years I was on different boards or held offices in the churches we belonged to. James and I were the youth leaders in Jamestown and I was even held some offices at the state level for our church then a program opened up for lay people to go through training to become licensed to help our churches find someone to fill the pulpits while the regular ministers were gone for vacations or meetings or whatever reasons, and I decided to participate and I did pulpit supply around North Dakota while we lived in Jamestown and in a few area churches when we moved back here.

You know that saying about when God closes a door he opens a window. I think that has been going on most of my life, but I was not paying attention. Every time something about my coaching or teaching career didn’t go exactly as planned, I would pick up and try something else. I often told myself it was just me getting bored and moving on. Well the last time that I taught full time was in Mobridge the year 2010-11. Our youngest daughter was a sophomore and we would have to leave Herreid every morning at 7 a.m. sharp and often were not home till 9 or 10 at night. That year they were redoing Main Street in Herreid and it was foggy most mornings and often dark when we left. There were times I would have to get out of the car and walk in front of it to see if the road was open. (I gave lots more details here, but maybe some other time)

Then the winter was a series of snow storms and I think I finally realized the God wasn’t closing a door, this time God was slamming a window shut and opening up a set of patio doors and pushing me through. It was time to listen to God’s call for me, and I am very glad that it worked out as it did. I am lucky that I am still able to work with youngsters while doing a little substituting, but I really don’t miss the hassle of teaching full time.

My point of my telling this story about myself is that God has a plan for all of us. Jeremiah 29:11, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Yes the historical context of this verse was for the Israelites when they were in exile, [read Jeremiah 29:10-14] but this passage is also for us to know that God really does care for all of us for each of us, and that we need to take time to listen to what those plans are so that we don’t spend our whole lives running in circles trying to figure out who we are and what we should be doing.

This past week I came upon a line from a book that I think I will have to order. The author, Anna Julia Cooper wrote: “One needs occasionally to stand aside from the hum and rush of human interests to hear the voice of God. Sort of like the verse in Psalm 46:10 where it is written, “Be still and know that I am God.” Sometimes we need to take a pause from our normal everyday lives or maybe from the hectic pace that some of us try to keep up, and we need just to listen for the whispers, for the tug and the push of what God is trying to tell us to do or to be. And don’t anyone here say that they are beyond doing anything anymore because they are retired. I come from a family that was taught by our matriarchs, that if you are still here God isn’t done with you yet, or at least there is something else that you are needed to do. I ended with a big thank you for them having me. It was a good experience for me and a wonderful night of getting to know some women better.

Message August 27, 2017

Today was a different sort of day in church. No Paulina and no sisters, but we had several visitors so that was really interesting. Two ladies who grew up in our church stopped to be with us. One lives in town but has married into another church, but the other has moved to Montana and she so wanted to come back to our building to worship in the church of her youth. We greeted them warmly and made sure they had a history book before they left. Here is the script of the message they heard, though it really was a bit different. When I have a receptive audience, I tend to elaborate and I really did on the part about the twins and the business about Shakespeare. James was almost afraid he was in the middle of literature class and there would be a quiz in the morning. Ha! Goof off.

The scriptures were: Isaiah 51:1-8, Romans 12:1-8 and Matthew 16:13-20. The title was, “Transitions,” which pretty much describes our life currently. Also we were treated to a duet by our musician and her husband. They are the photo above. The lady who plays for the Methodists and subs for us was their accompanist. They did the duet in the Methodist church earlier in the morning.

Here we are in this calendar/time zone sort of thing that is hovering around the end of summer. I know, I know this technically is not the end of summer, that doesn’t officially happen until later in September when the sun crosses the equator and the earth tilts so that we get colder, but seriously somewhere between last weekend and this weekend and next weekend perhaps when we celebrate Labor Day, summer is for all points and purposes over. Done, finee, finished, kaput. School has started, and even though we don’t have a Sunday School or school age church goers, this is it. And, my garden is believing it too.

On Thursday, Paulina and got into her packed up car and I got into my loaded down van, and we took her off to college for the last time—my last daughter to her last year of college. My sister Melissa is just starting this journey. She took Elisabeth off for her first year, and so the cycle begins anew in the family. As I drove home, west on I-94 into the sunset (appropriately) I wondered how we went from watching the eclipse of the sun on Monday to starting a new year of grade school and high school (if you read the newsletter, you noticed that it isn’t just James going to school this fall) on Tuesday to moving Paulina out of the house on Thursday, well actually she moved in on Friday, but we went up to babysit the twins on Thursday overnight, and that is another story for another day, but believe me those two fussbudgets won’t be torturing me again anytime soon. They cried most of the night for Paulina and me then slept all day Friday for their mother.

As long as this week seemed, I am beginning to understand this business about creating the world in six days. Some days are longer than others and some have more in them than others, and transitions make days and weeks seem longer because of the great amount of difference and change between going into them in the beginning and coming out of them on the other end.

Our gospel lesson this week seems to signal a transition in the life or maybe the word should be in the learning of the disciples. In this passage, Matthew tells us that Jesus asks the disciples who they believe him to be. Interestingly Matthew doesn’t just tell us about the question, but he is careful to give us details about where they were when the question was asked. Now we might not realize that the where has any bearing on the question, but in fact it is fairly important to the question. They are in a place called Caesarea of Philippi. If you know anything about the Roman Empire, or even if you just remember that Jesus lived during the time of the Roman Empire the word Caesarea should make you think of Caesar and perhaps, Julius Caesar, who though he was famous on his own, might be best remembered by being forced to read the play about him that was written by Shakespeare. At least that is where I learned most of my information about him and why I learned about him.

Anyway this place is in an area of Greek influence and was a spot associated with the worship of Baal which we would associate as a place of a more pagan worship. Also Caesarea was not added to this name until Caesar Augustus was the ruler. During the time of Julius Caesar it was just Philippi and I remember it from Shakespeare’s play as where Brutus and Cassius, the leaders of the group who killed Caesar, met up with and fought the armies of Mark Antony and Caesar Augustus. Philippi as it is simply called in the play is a flat plan between these rocky hills. (I shared how Brutus and Cassius were foolish enough to fight on the plane instead of making the other two come and get them in the hills amid the rocks. I also pointed out how the bad guys of a good western movie are never quite that generous. It was a fun discussion.)

Apparently sometime later there was a shrine built there to the glory of Caesar so people could worship him. I am only telling you this to get a background of the area to see that it is a place of worship that does not include a temple to either the religion of the Israelites or a place we would consider as a place significant or holy to the people surrounding Jesus or to the beginnings of Christianity.

So it was here in this completely pagan worshiping un-Christian seeming area that Jesus goes with his disciples and he asks them who people say he is, and then he asks who they believe him to be. Now there are lots of answers of what they have heard others to say Jesus is, but he really seems to be more interested in what they, the disciples, his closest followers believe. And imagine who steps to the front and speaks for the group? Of course it is Peter; he is always stepping up and speaking out. Simon tells Jesus that he believes him to be the Messiah the Son of the living God. He isn’t a king, he isn’t a prophet from long ago, he isn’t just another human leader, and he certainly isn’t a fake God as Baal was. He is the Son of the Living God. This is pretty much telling us that as the Son of the Living God, Jesus is the Son of the only God, the one true God who is above all else.

That is what Simon realizes and that is what he says in answer to this question. And as he gives his answer, Jesus looks at him and acknowledges that it isn’t Simon who has realized this, but God has revealed it to him. Because of his faith, Simon has been transformed and understood who Jesus really was, who he is, and because of it, Jesus rewards him by saying his new name is to be Peter, the Rock and he will be the leader on which the church is built. Because Peter was able to believe in Jesus, to know there was something worth knowing and following, God gave him the ability to see the truth about who Jesus was, and as a result he was rewarded. Peter with the keys to the kingdom was given the task of leadership and we all know that is not always an easy job. As Peter admitted his faith and his understanding he was also given great responsibility.

We also need to realize that understanding of- and faith in- Christ is more than just something we do on Sunday mornings or when it is convenient for us. True belief, true faith leads us to a transformation, a change in how we think and act that probably not an overnight sort of change, but when we believe and really accept Christ as the Son of the Living God as part of our lives we will want to be better in our actions towards others. We will want to care about those around us, those in need perhaps of tangible help and maybe even those with needs that are not so recognizable like someone to care about them, or to stand up for them or even to speak up for them. Who do we say that Jesus is?

Paul in his 12th chapter of the letter to the Romans says: “Do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” As Simon was transformed by his faith into understanding that Jesus was the Messiah the Son of the Living God, he was given a greater understanding of his own place in following Jesus, in working to share that knowledge with others. It may seem to us like he was given a great promotion, but for some it may have seemed like a great burden. But when you think of what he realized, you begin to understand the absolute joy he must have felt in the knowledge that he was indeed working with and for the Messiah, he Simon son of Jonah was with the Son of the living God and nothing was ever going to be the same again. His joy must have been unbelievable.

As Paul continues on in this chapter it is to let the people of the church know that they do not all have to have the same talents, the same gifts, but all of them have something to contribute to the life of the church. This is something we need to remember also. Each of us has a purpose, a reason for being. We all have something to contribute to the life of the congregation. A good example of how we work together will happen again this Wednesday. Some are knotters, some line up the pieces and pin the batting to it, others make sure it is straight, some are good at threading needles, some sew the pieces together and some of us are really good at walking from point A to point B pretending we are doing something. And those are not the only things we do as a church, but I think you get the point. Everyone has their specialty and that is what makes a church work together well, and Paul makes that point over and over again throughout this epistle and the many of his other writings. He compares it here to a body. We need all the parts to make the whole work correctly and that is the same with a church.

As we go this week let us remember that each of us has a special gift or for some special gifts that are important to this community of believers and to God’s service, and let us also remember that it is through our faith that we are accepted into God’s kingdom and transformed for God’s service. Amen!

Message: August 20, 2017

This message is long and I thought a bit more than I normally bite off. Many in the congregation liked it, and one that I was worried about his comment said it was just what we needed. Hurrah!!. The scriptures were: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 and Matthew 15: 10-28. The title was “Persistence.”

Before we begin today and because I wasn’t really sure where to begin this week, let me step out, away from the safety of the pulpit and give you a little disclaimer. Every week I start with the question of “where do I start this week.” Today it is going to be where we left off last week after the message and just before the last song when I asked for prayers for our country, and in light of the newest terror attacks, I should have said, our world.

My disclaimer is this: what I have decided to share with you today is not intentionally aimed at a particular political party or any particular political leader. It truly is not. I know that we probably don’t exactly agree when we go to the ballot box, but that should not interfere with our ability to be Christians together and to serve God in the best way that we can. The message today is based on some things from my time at General Synod and from some items that crossed my desk in the office this week. Add all of it to the gospel message of today, and it seemed like too much of a push for me to ignore this any longer, and so we have what we have. (Go back to the pulpit)

My English thesis paper for the graduate degree that I never finished was on the reader’s response theory. This is the idea that when you read a book, your background as in your experiences and your education and all the things about you as a person affect your interpretation of a book, and matter just as much as the intention of the author who wrote the book. In other words this theory is what good teachers have known all along, books once published take on their own meanings and are unique for each person. In our church denomination many years ago we adopted the theme of God is Still Speaking. This wasn’t just a clever saying, but it means that as we read scripture it strikes us each where we are in terms of our faith maturity. And I can attest to that in how I now often see things in scripture lessons that I didn’t notice before. So let us begin.

The first reading I want to share is a proclamation: [Read Statement of Witness from the Conference Staff of the UCC Conferences which includes ours. It is a statement regarding White Privilege] White Privilege might seem like something silly for us to be talking about in our community. We might think this is for a more integrated area, or at least an area that has more African American people, really around here we must be 99% causation. Some of us might be more inclined to notice gender issues, but perhaps it is not as silly as we consider the whole of our state and how it is that we as descendants of immigrants, and especially those of us who are land owners came to be living here in this place.

[Read Gordon’s letter] I am not posting the letter just giving you this bit. It is about historic racism and refers to the way the Native Americans were treated during the days of the settlement of South Dakota which involved taking children away from their families and putting them in boarding schools. The old Congregational Church was part of this through the American Missionary Association, which I believe came from Yale at one time. I did suggest that an interesting somewhat similar read on their work is the book Hawaii by James Michner.

As we consider the story about Jesus’ treatment of a non Jewish woman as told to us by Matthew, it is good for us to know that she was a descendant of the original people who populated Canaan when the Israelites first took control of the area. She would be considered an outcast, a no body by the people surrounding Jesus during his time on earth. For him to give her time or credibility would be just another reason for the Jewish leaders to be against him and what he was teaching. She was not worthy of their time and her child was certainly not worthy of being healed.

Perhaps this would be a good time to mention that one of the resolutions passed at General Synod was a resolution to ask for better treatment of the Palestinian children by the soldiers and officials of Israel. I don’t want to get so far off track, but as things stand currently, soldiers are able to imprison Palestinian children without any regard to even the Geneva Convention rules, and unlike our country where children cannot be questioned without parents consent, they can even be taken from their homes without the parents being able to do anything. And by the way, the people of Palestine are the descendants of the people of Canaan.

So in this story that Matthew gives us today, we want to ask what is going on. Why is Jesus treating this woman this way? This seems more like something the Pharisees would do, but not Jesus. In looking at the passage I noticed a couple of things. First off we have not seen Jesus treat a woman as inferior as others do, and second he has never refused to help someone who is outside of his culture. In fact so many times we notice how he heals or helps the Gentiles and the Samaritans and even Roman soldiers, so why is he acting like this towards this woman? You almost get the impression that he is telling her she is not good enough. She is not worthy. Well actually, we are all not worthy, but that isn’t what we hear in other Bible stories about Jesus’ actions. But here, he seems to be saying that only a select few, only the “chosen” of Israel are good enough to receive his grace, his salvation.

Wow, does that mean we are out too? If we read this passage alone and not all the way to the end, I guess that is what we see. No one outside of the people of Israel are worthy of the goodness of God. Is God really that exclusionary? Thankfully, when we read all the way to the end, we find a different story. Jesus accepted this woman.

Some interpretations that I read started to say maybe this was Jesus’ version of a bad joke, but in the end they denied that idea, too. The Interpreter’s Bible puts it this way: Matthew’s intended audience was likely the early church. He included this story about Jesus to let them know that everyone should be included in the Christian Church. Specifically their words were, “[the] obvious answer is that the mission is to be extended to wherever it encounters faith.” What we should understand then is that Jesus accepted all people who accepted him. He came for everyone no matter their culture or language or race or gender, and he expected his disciples to do the same, and he expects us to do the same, also.

So how do we resolve the issues of our day? How do we look on the exclusionary practices of things like White Privilege or more radically White Supremacy and accept it as simply who they are and what they do? Is our lack of push back a sign of acceptance? When we aren’t against them are we for them? Is there room for us to sit idly by and do nothing? Or does our silence make us complicit to their actions? What was that thought during World War II that when we stayed out of the war against the Nazis, stayed out of the fight because it belonged to Europe and not to us, then we were also responsible for the deaths of those in the concentration camps.

It may not seem so, but I have seriously been struggling with this in terms of, “How should we look at the white supremacists?” Should we think of them as strictly evil, as people directed by Satan? Or do we see them as created by God, but people who have not realized the full love of God? I DON”T HAVE THE ANSWER! I certainly don’t have the answer on the confederate thing, though I do agree that war is long over and for some of us it was fought well before any of our ancestors were in this country, though if we listened to Gordon’s letter that doesn’t give us a pass.

On the other hand I do have a very exact thought on the Nazi issue. I don’t know how we go to our local cemeteries and walk past the graves of our soldiers who fought in WWII, those who died in it, those who gave up body parts for it, and those who came home to live out their lives after it. I don’t know how we walk past their graves and say we are not willing to stand up against this new generation who walks through the streets of our country carrying the flag of the Nazi party in support of its ideals. Maybe I lied in my disclaimer; this is one party I will speak against. We the descendents of the Germans from Russia may each have our own stories of what it was like for our families during WWII. My mother said that during the war years, they were very careful not to use the German language in public because it could be viewed as a sign of disrespect to our country.

One thing I don’t understand is how anyone can come up with an ideology of segregation and hate from studying the Bible. Even if we are confused at the beginning of this passage, when we get to its end, we realize Jesus did not exclude this Canaanite woman from the generosity of his love because of her race. We also know that when he opened his arms and died on the cross, it was for all of us.

We might want to argue that we don’t agree with these actions, we don’t support them. We are not exclusionary in this town. We don’t discriminate. We are open minded. Our complicity, though—and I dare to bet I am the worst one in this room—it comes when we are in a situation listening to others talk, telling jokes or stories or expressing opinions about the inferiority of others because of their language or skin color or anything that makes them different. Our complicity comes when we sit and say nothing. And I think of all those quilts in the basement that could have warmed someone last winter, but because of my judgmental bias, I quietly left them there. Please, someone make sure that doesn’t happen again. Someone speak up and tell me I am wrong.

Now as we go today, I hope we all have a little bit of something to think about, and perhaps a little something to pray about. I hope we all take some time to consider what sort of actions we can practice to promote the love that Jesus died to bring to earth for all people. Amen.

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

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