Bread of Life

There was a couple at the first church I served back in New York State – very nice folks – and the wife, Diane, was an excellent cook.  In fact, she was such a good cook that every year at our church’s annual talent auction – she would donate two German dinners to be auctioned off. People would pay a high price for these dinners for the chance to come to Diane and David’s home and eat the food she would prepare. She would serve many courses and she would set the table with their finest dishes and silverware.

When Chad and I were first married they invited us over for one of these dinners and I was struck by how much care she put into the meal! The food was so beautifully presented in addition to being delicious and nourishing. Their home was warm and welcoming. I loved how she took these particular gifts Diane and David had for cooking and providing hospitality and used them to show love to the people in their life. When you left their home, you felt not only full but cared for.

Now looking back I have even more appreciation for the gift she gave. I didn’t realize then, because I didn’t have children yet then, so I couldn’t realize how particularly amazing it was that they would regularly have people over to their home for these elaborate meals – and they had a four year-old and a newborn at the time. Extraordinary!

Well, we all know people who show love through food, right? It’s a beautiful thing and it is shown in all sorts of ways. The hotdish brought over to a house when there has been a death in the family. The meal provided by the ladies of the church after a funeral. Some extra boxes and cans of food bought at the grocery store and then delivered to the food pantry – we know what it means to experience giving and receiving love through food.

So it isn’t strange at all that when Jesus tries to tell us what he means for us and for our lives he says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

During Lent, each Wednesday a group of pastors in the area are all switching pulpits each week and preaching on the different “I Am” statements of Jesus. If you remember, in the gospel of John there were seven different “I am” statements that Jesus said – “I am the Light of the World”, “I am the true Vine”, “I am the Good Shepherd”, “I am the Gate”, “I am the Resurrection and the Life”, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and “I am the Bread of Life”.

Each of these are beautiful symbols and each of these tell us something different about Jesus.

This past Wednesday night I preached at Eksjo – we ate chili and crackers and then we gathered upstairs in the sanctuary. In my sermon, I preached about how Jesus said he was the bread of life and he used that illustration right after performing the miracle of turning a few loaves of bread into enough to feed thousands. I preached about how Jesus nourishes our bodies and souls through his body and blood and as long as we are fed with his word, we will be truly full.

It was a fine sermon. Finely constructed, finely delivered – fine. Sure. But ever since I preached it, there has been a troubling question that keeps drifting back to me. It’s a troubling question that steals away the crumbs of peace in neatly summing up Jesus as the bread of life who fills us full.

It’s one of those questions that people of faith often pretend not to have, and yet we do. The question is this:  if Jesus is the bread of life, why are there so many starving places? I don’t just mean people who are hungry. I don’t mean the kind of hunger you feel in your stomach, but the kind you feel in your heart.

Because even though we gather here and confess that Jesus is our bread of life, even though those of us who gather here love him and love the church and confess Jesus is the Lord of our lives – sometimes the truth is that we feel hungry, even starving for something we cannot name.

And how can we help it? This world is full of starving places. We see brokenness all around, children who have been abused, addictions that ruin lives and homes, questions that have no answers, healing that doesn’t come.

And it seems to me we are so hungry for peace, for answers, for healing.  What has this bread of life done to fill our hunger? The hungry places of this world don’t just disappear the moment we believe in Jesus Christ and the cross.

And that’s not all – you know what else is troubling?  That there is this hushed fear that we hardly dare think – but there it is, humming beneath the surface of our days – the doubt, the distrust, the truth that sometimes we need help even really believing in Jesus and in what he taught us. If this isn’t true, then, how else can we explain the fact that we don’t live like we really believe in this gospel?

Just a few examples: Jesus says, “Do for others as you want them to do for you.” And yet, I wonder who among us has not reasoned that we were too busy or too broke or too whatever to help someone who came to us asking for help.

Jesus says, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven.” And yet, the last time I checked, most of us not only have the things we need, but plenty of extra things filling out our houses and garages.

Jesus says, “the one who is least among you is the greatest,” yet whose call would you return quicker – your favorite celebrity, or that annoying neighbor down the road who keeps borrowing your tools and not returning them?

If we really stop to think about it, this gospel is so troubling. It asks impossible things of us. It becomes easiest to just smile and pretend we are feeling full of the bread of life when we aren’t and compare our less than holy actions to others instead of to the standard God holds for us.

Yet, the vision that captures my attention is this: how would it feel if we chose instead to be really truthful in our faith or lack of it. If instead of smiling and talking about how full we feel, fed by the bread of life, if we could look at each other and admit that we still feel hungry sometimes, and that is scary.

And I think about how great it would be if we could be honest and talk about the ways we tend to twist and manipulate the gospel to fit the way we are living and how we don’t really live like people who have had any kind of revolution happen in our hearts.

I think if we could do that, it would be quite wonderful.

Because when we begin to admit those desperately flawed things about ourselves – that is when we finally catch a glimpse of how desperately we need a Savior.

We are a gathering of broken people who make selfish choices – we worry and distrust even the God who knit us together, and it takes so dreadfully little to turn our eyes and thoughts and hearts away from him and his will and toward shiny things, or a little cash, or a juicy piece of gossip.

This is us. Martin Luther would say it is only when we can acknowledge the truth about our sinfulness that we should dare come to the altar rail for communion.

We don’t share in this sacrament because it is a nice thing to do or because we want to pay tribute to what Jesus did for us – we receive his body and blood because we are starving for the bread of life. So we come as beggars to his table and know that just as we are – full of doubts and flaws and questions, lacking in so many ways, and he sets out his best for us. The finest feast, the warmest welcome – every time we come. Not because we are good, but because he is good.

Those hungry places are there in our hearts and in our world, it’s true – but they aren’t places God is absent. If we don’t see him or feel him there yet, it’s because our vision is cloudy, not God’s. Those hungry places are simply where God’s glory and provision are yet to be shown – either to us or through us. We can trust the bread of life will be enough for us. Always. Keep turning to Jesus to feed the hunger you feel, keep being fed on the Word of God and this sacrament of Grace we share. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Good Moral Behavior? (a sermon for the last Sunday of Christmas)

It is the twelfth day of Christmas today.  Tomorrow is Epiphany and the Christmas season will end.  Sometimes I feel a little bad for the Christmas season.  We tend to rush to get it here – wanting to sing the Christmas carols and see the decorations long before Christmas Eve and then by the time we are at the end of the short, twelve day long Christmas season, we are wondering why are we still singing Christmas songs?  Why is the tree still up?  The rest of life around us has long since packed up Christmas, traded it in for New Year’s resolutions and even looking ahead toward Valentines Day.  But in here, it is still Christmas.  For one more day.

Our Gospel for today (John 1:1-18) won’t let us forget it, that is for sure.  If the gospel text sounds familiar, well, it should – especially if you were here Christmas eve and Christmas day – it is the same exact reading we heard both those days.

And no less confusing now than it ever is.  “In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God, and the Word was God.”  This text talks about Word and Life and Light – all these things coming into the world and becoming flesh.  This was John’s way of simply talking about Jesus’ birth.  God’s word put on flesh and came to live among us and through him we receive grace.

Not long ago, a friend of mine from Minnesota, a high school friend, wrote an article on his blog telling his readers that he wasn’t a Christian.  He said that he just didn’t really believe that Jesus was God and the only reason he sends his kids to Sunday School is because he thinks it is a good place to get sound moral teaching – but that is about it.  He then said that if anyone who knew him didn’t like that and chose not to talk to him anymore he would understand.

I thought a lot about his article in the days that followed and my feeling as I did so was sadness.  And not sadness because he was expressing doubt about believing in Jesus.  I think if most of us are honest we have all had doubts.  I know few who when standing over the gravestone of a child or after watching the news about another terrorist bombing, or even just after a troubling amount of days of feeling a lack of God’s presence or a distressing lack of visible answers to prayer, I know few who don’t have doubts about who God is and how it is that such evil or seeming absence can happen under God’s watch.  However, even for those people who might never have a doubt, if that were possible, such faith would be a gift from God anyway, so it is nothing to get proud about.  My experience is that most faithful people are quite a lot like that father in the book of Mark whose child needed healing from an unclean spirit and he came to Jesus asking for help and said, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!”  We believe but we also doubt.  We trust, but yet we are skeptical.  We are saints, but yet we are sinners.  This is us – human beings, all of us.

And I wasn’t sad because this friend of mine said the main reason he sends his kids to Sunday School was so that they could have strong moral teaching.  I hope our churches will always be places where children can receive that – of course, I hope they get it at home, too, but I pray their church families always help reinforce that and are places of good influence.  However, I think if that is our main goal in coming to church – that idealized vision of good morals and nice people and kindness overflowing, then we can get pretty disillusioned in the church fast, too.  Because the church is, once again, full of human beings – and sin can slip in these doors just as easily as anywhere else on earth.  Christian people, all of us, are as big a lot of sinners as anyone.  Even if we unite here under the common goal of following Jesus it doesn’t take long before something happens that reminds us of that.  A cross word, a thoughtless deed, a selfish action, something happens and sooner or later, again and again, we get reminded that being on church property doesn’t mean perfect behavior.  Lord no.  I’d rather the lesson my kids get in coming to Sunday School is not one of good moral behavior not nearly as much as the message that they are forgiven and loved always.  That if and when they mess up, they are loved and accepted here by us and by our God just as much as when they have been on their best behavior.  Yes, we teach the ten commandments here – but those are just a fraction of the story and a story made complete by the message of grace that Jesus brought.  That, and that being part of a Christian community such as this means simply that this is a place where we come and try not to seek a utopia of any sorts – but rather this is a place where we get to not only worship and learn about God but practice being God’s people.  We keep practicing at forgiving, speaking the truth in love and encouraging each other in the faith and then do our best to bring those skills out into the world around us.

So why was I sad about the words my friend had written?  I was sad because his impression of his Christian friends was that some of them would probably not want to be his friend anymore if they knew this about him.  If they knew he was a person who could have doubts about faith and Jesus Christ, that his Christian friends would reject him.

Is that the impression we give to the rest of the world?  And if so, why?  And if so, how can we change that?  Because we must.

You know, the thing is, I don’t blame anyone for being confused about Christians – because I know a fair number of Christians who probably would  prove my friend right about his assumptions.  Refusing to associate with a non-believer.  Condemning a fellow human being for having doubts.  Pointing out the speck in the eyes of others without seeing the plank in their own.  But none of that is living as Jesus Christ showed us. 

And that is what this season of Christmas is supposed to remind us.  That God sent Jesus, God’s word with skin on, to show us that being God’s people wasn’t nearly so much about the law as about love. That all those things that you struggle with – whether it be jealousy or depression or greed or anger or boredom or addiction or gossiping – that you don’t have to be able to purge yourself of any of those things in order to be loved or forgiven fully and completely.  Who you are is precious and beloved – right now.  That Jesus came to be born and walk around the earth and show us God’s face – and that face was one that looked on others with compassion and acceptance, grace upon grace.

Let me be clear:  God doesn’t love you because of how good you are.  God loves you because you are. 

The Christmas season is coming to a close and we feel ready for that.  We can’t be eating Christmas cookies all year round.  We’re most likely looking forward to singing some new songs and putting the carols away until next year.  But before we do, let’s pause at that manger one last time to remember the whole reason for it.  Jesus coming to earth, God’s word coming to us, love coming to us – not merely a singular event in time – not at all.  Jesus came to us to show us that is how God’s love is always – it comes to us.  We don’t have to work to get to God and to deserve God’s love because God’s love comes to us and promises to be born in us again and again.

And as we turn now and walk away from the manger we show our response to God for that great gift.  What will we choose as we journey through the seasons to come?  To accept that gift of life and love and then respond with selfishness or do we respond with consistently looking for ways to serve and help others?  Do we accept that gift of life and love and then respond with hording as much as possible for ourselves – more stuff that we don’t need, more luxury for ourselves when others are wondering where their next meal is coming from – or- do we respond by working hard to learn how to give, to see the beauty and peace that can be found in generosity?  Do we respond to God’s gift of life and love with accepting division and animosity and gossip and hatred to be a part of our days – or – do we respond by always, always, always working to speak well of our neighbors and let kindness and mercy be our first response?

God’s gifts to us are already given and great – all that remains to be seen is how and if we show our gratitude through our days and deeds.

Let us pray…

Lord, help us to live gratefully, boldly, lovingly, hopefully, mercifully and generously.  Help us to never stop thanking you for this gift of Jesus born to us, our dear Savior.  Help us to remember that you don’t require perfect understanding in order to receive your love.  Help us to remember that doubts are normal and that it is often by praying our way through those doubts and looking for our answers in you that you drive us toward deeper faith and peace.  Living God, we are yours, now help us live our lives for you.  We pray all these things in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The Church

I spend a lot of time trying to understand the church.

There are so many things I love about the church.  Here, I will list just a few:

1.  I love the stained glass and the old architecture of churches.  When churches are busy and full of life, that is great, but I’m also partial to when the church is quiet and still and it is a place to pray and think.  This may be why I have always been partial to country churches.

2.  I love the quilting ladies and all they represent.  The fellowship that can be found among a group of women who come together and quilt is a lovely thing.  I like the simplicity of the process of making the Lutheran World Relief quilts – how the women find scraps of clothing that may be otherwise thrown away and they stitch them into pieces of art that are then sent around the world and help people in countless ways.

3.  I love when the congregation sings in harmony on a Sunday morning – or especially how it sounds when a group of pastors sing together.  There is little as lovely as a group of Lutheran pastors singing in four-part harmony.  I cry every time.

4.  I love funerals – and how the body of Christ gathers together to remember the person who has departed and support the people left behind.  I love how Christian people throughout time know that there is real comfort that comes along with the casseroles and plates of sandwiches brought to a grieving family.

5.  I love how the Holy Spirit can still surprise me and show up when I least expect it – on a Sunday morning when I am feeling tired or crabby, and yet something in the music or the scripture will still touch my heart and leave me feeling comforted, better, and whole.

6.  I love how the church has been a home for me as long as I can remember.  Church people have always loved me and embraced me and supported me all through the years of my life.

But there are many things about the church that frustrate me, too.  Here, I will list just a few:

1. I am frustrated that so many have not felt loved or embraced or supported by their churches and thus have given up on the idea that it is a place where worthwhile and wonderful things can happen.

2.  I am frustrated that church is seen as a destination.  At the same time that I love the architecture and the stained glass because of all it represents to me personally and historically, I know that the building isn’t the church, the people are the church.  And too often, we fall so in love with our church buildings and keeping them looking how we think they should look that we forget that we don’t need them. At the end of the day, church buildings are really only so much brick and wood and stone, they are not the living Word.  They will not save us. They cannot comfort or sustain us.  Too many church buildings have become, quite simply, false gods.

3. I am frustrated by apathy, mostly my own apathy.  Long ago, people regularly died for their faith. Now we can hardly get people to make sure their kids come on a confirmation retreat. Jesus and the disciples journeyed long and hard to preach the gospel.  My ministry looks more like this – I moan that church is a whole hour earlier now at my new church than it was at my last church.  When did I become such a spiritual cupcake?  I get frustrated with so much passionless faith I see around me and yet, too often I wonder what exactly has become of mine?  I’m comforted in my knowledge that doubt and faith go hand in hand and I trust that God is just as at work in fertile seasons of belief as well as in all our times of desert and questioning.  However, I can’t get over the unsettling wondering of just what Jesus would think of what we have built the church to be.

No one has said the church is perfect and I have seen incredibly good things happen because of and through the church. However, there are some days I think a lot about  what a church council president said to me long ago.  He said he thought it might be the best thing for the Christian church on earth if all the church buildings burned to the ground.  No longer would we be tied to all our edifices and trinkets.  We’d be forced to go out into the community, meet together in homes, remember that this faith we share is about so much more than a place.  We’d no longer be on the autopilot of “are these the paraments for this church season” and “are the bulletins ready for Sunday yet” and “how much was the offering for Sunday?”  None of those things would matter anymore and we could just get together and pray – in a park, in your back yard, by the lake, anywhere.

I can imagine Jesus entering into that kind of space a lot more easily than I can imagine him feeling comfortable in most any church building I have known.

Slippery Strands of Faith

Faith is a funny thing.

For some faith is just a lifelong journey beginning with the waters of baptism. It is a beloved relationship. Spirituality may not be something completely understood, but there is nowhere else we are likely to be found on a Sunday morning than right here with our eyes fixed on the cross.

For others, faith is like a wrestling match – trying to reconcile all the pain and suffering in the world with the belief in a loving God. Worship and time spent with the Scriptures is equal parts soothing for the spirit and fuel for the flames of our questioning as faith is both loved and something with which one struggles.

For others, faith is a lot like a love story. At some point or another, this person falls deeply in love with the Gospel – perhaps through some life-changing experience. But like all love stories, after the initial swooning and falling and deep, sweeping emotion, and after all the fire of first passion has burned away, hopefully there is still enough heat left in the embers to keep the flame alive over the years.

Faith is different for each of us. There are different reasons that bring you and I to this place each week to think about God and thank God and show our devotion to God and wrestle with God.


Many famous words have been written about faith to try to convey the many different facets and understandings of faith.

Martin Luther wrote: God our Father has made all things depend on faith so that whoever has faith will have everything, and whoever does not have faith will have nothing.

Oswald Chambers wrote: Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace.

And my favorite is from E. Stanley Jones: Faith is not merely your holding on to God–it is God holding on to you. He will not let you go!

I really like Nicodemus, the Pharisee leader of the Jews central to our Gospel for today. Here was a man who was publicly a religious leader, kind of supposed to have matters of a religious nature figured out. So when you think about it that way, perhaps it is no surprise that he comes to Jesus by night to ask him questions. He has seen the amazing things Jesus can do, he has seen his miracles and he wants to know more. He is drawn to Jesus.

To tell you the truth, I’m so jealous of Nicodemus. I covet what he gets to do here – because he gets to share this quiet moment with Jesus and ask him the deepest questions of his heart. Just he and Jesus, alone together, sharing in conversation about the kingdom.

And I love how Nicodemus peppers him with questions and Jesus is trying to explain his answers and Nicodemus says, “How can these things be?” And Jesus says, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” Because I know that if I were ever to have a quiet evening conversation with Jesus, I would be asking Jesus questions like this and many others and eventually he would say to me something like that, too – “Ruth, are you a pastor at Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church, and yet you do not understand these things?”

But I am certain he would say it with a twinkle in his eye – because he would know already how desperately little I understand. He would know already how slippery the strands of faith can feel on my fingertips some days. He would already know that every day I long to feel closer to him and my only comfort is the knowledge that he is closer to me than my own heartbeat – whether I feel him near or not.

There’s an old story that illustrates this thought pretty well. I’m sure you may have heard it before. One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: “Jump! I will catch you.” But the boy protested, “Daddy, I can’t see you.” The father replied, “But I can see you and that’s all that matters.”

Our vision is small and we can only see so far. This life is such that we are oftentimes only given glimpses of the glory of God. We spot him in those moments of grace or deep truth or mercy, when we witness true, selfless love, the perfection of sunlight rippling on the water or the scent of a baby’s cheek next to our face. We catch glimpses of God all the time. And yet, for those countless times when we do not, there is something else – and it is quite something. It is a promise.

Jesus and Nicodemus, I don’t know how long they were able to speak that evening, but we know that after spending a great deal of time talking about the questions in Nicodemus’ heart, Jesus finally tells him what it all comes down to.

It’s a verse we all can probably quote by heart, John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

But it doesn’t stop there – praise God it doesn’t stop there. Verse 17 reads, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

When I think about the context of this conversation, it is so particularly beautiful. Nicodemus, a man coming to Jesus in secret at night, because he doesn’t want everyone to know how he questions and how he feels a desperate need to know Jesus more deeply – and Jesus tries to explain all these inexplicable things to him patiently and with care – but finally he sums up everything for Nicodemus and for us saying, “I didn’t come to condemn you, I came to save you.”

Jesus doesn’t condemn us for our questions, or for our lack of faith. He came to love us and save us in spite of those things. Although faith may feel like wandering in the dark much of the time, may we never doubt that Jesus is right there in the darkness beside us, closer than we could ever know.

When my mother was dying back in 2011, I was surprised the moments of comfort that would come. Of course, none of them could take away the pain that I was going to lose her, but they helped me catch glimpses that even though I had to travel this road of her death and the grief to come, I was not forsaken. I would be okay. Mom would be okay. I wouldn’t know how until I journeyed into that unknown – but we would be okay.

And out of nowhere, the lyrics of old hymns that my family used to sing together when my brother and I were children, those lyrics would run through my mind over and over. “When peace like a river attendeth my way. When sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say It is well, it is well with my soul.”

I took those moments of peace and comfort as the gifts from God I know they were. I held tight to them and hold them close still. There have been times in life when God has seemed remote to me – but that was not one of those times. And I know that peace wasn’t given to me because I am good but because God is good.

Brothers and sisters, the good news for today is that no matter how you feel about your faith or how near or far God seems to you, he is here. God is journeying with you and holding you close – and God will not fail to remind you of that just when you need it most.

Preachers. Keep on Preaching.

I read a story yesterday about a campus chaplain, Dr. Randy Beckum, who was demoted for preaching about peace and the false god of patriotism during a campus chapel service.  He had his role as Vice President of MidAmerica Nazarene College stripped of him because many saw his words as inflammatory, yet he retained his role as chaplain.

Perhaps one cannot be both chaplain and hold a role that needs to answer to human beings in power.  In fact, I think it is impossible to satisfy both God’s calling upon our lives and the desires of the human beings around us.  Any preacher understands this – if you are going to preach from the scriptures, you are going to upset people.  If you are trying to actually live by what Jesus taught, most will think you are nuts or naive or both.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ (grace, peace, kindness, mercy) is just too contrary to the gospel of popular culture (war, revenge, violence, materialism) for many people to stomach.

I have seen evidence of this so often in churches – lay people in leadership feeling torn apart because they want to do what is right and yet too often their vision gets clouded because they don’t want to upset anyone.  I hear multitudes of pastors feeling real fear of job loss if they were to proclaim the Gospel fully rather than temper it for their own particular, comfortable setting.  I’ve known  many congregations who compare themselves to a “family” and wring their hands over they don’t the “family” to be disrupted over an issue or, heaven forbid, someone to leave!  When the loudest voices cry that it’s better to stick to what is tried and true, when most decisions are made out of fear rather than faith, eventually God’s holy house begins to look more and more like a feeble social club rather than a place for the Living God to be made known.  It might be a nice place to visit and catch up with one another, but bears little to no resemblance to Jesus’ intention for His church on earth.

I have been a pastor for sixteen years.  I love the church beyond measure.  I love the different-colored banners for the changing church seasons, sharing the stories that Jesus told, and singing the hymns I learned sitting next to my grandmother on a wooden pew in a little Lutheran church in Minnesota.  There is nothing that makes my heart so glad as carrying on the rituals of making ashes from dried palm leaves, reading sacred scriptures as a parishioner takes her final breath, hearing children learn the Lord’s prayer, and the smell of coffee wafting from the church kitchen.  The Lutheran church, everywhere, has always been my second home.  Life looks beautiful to me in the glow of the stained glass and with the sound of Jesus’ words echoing in my mind.

But I’m just as guilty of creating false gods.  Mine might not be patriotism or materialism, however I still like to keep God in the places I can understand God and where I can make sense of God.  Others may catch glimpses of holy things in flags, earthly heroes, or an ideal of a perfect church “family” that exists only in their minds. I have caught glimpses of holy things in quiet country churches and the nostalgia of sacred music.

I guess I dream of what is impossible while I’m still here on Earth – the sacred unfettered by all that we put upon it in this world.  I long for God, pure and only, not God through the eyeglasses of a particular group or faction.

All our best intentions, our righteous rites and wordy words, still only hint at the wonder and mystery of the One who made us.

So why should we be surprised when speaking about God and trying to live our lives in God often gets frustrating?  We are trying to lasso the wind.  We are looking out for the black dog laying on the black pavement on a pitch dark night.  All is hidden from our sight – yet – the smidgen of the Holy One in each of us can’t help but keep searching for and naming God, while at the same time, the sin in us is busy pointing out the speck in one another’s eye and ignoring the log in our own.

I’m proud of Dr. Beckum for naming the false gods he has witnessed.  He is called there to do just such a thing.  I bet he wasn’t surprised at all about the reaction it received.  We preachers know when buttons are being pushed.  But God has called us to do just that.  When we stop having the courage to name sin and proclaim God’s forgiveness to the repentant, it is time for us to step down from the pulpit. Until then, preachers – take heart, fight the good fight, keep on preaching.

Reformation

For a long time, many years of my ministry, it seemed like the recipe for a good Reformation Sunday sermon was to tell the story about Martin Luther again and again. And it never occurred to me to do anything else until I read an article by a well-respected Lutheran theologian last year who said, “Preachers, this Reformation Sunday, I don’t want to hear about Martin Luther. Instead, I want to hear the truth.”
And it occurred to me that he was right. I mean, the story of Martin Luther is compelling, but if you don’t already know it, or want a refresher, you can google “Martin Luther” on the internet or I’ve left some handy pamphlets in the back that you can feel free to take with you. Because this Reformation Sunday, you aren’t getting a history lesson on Martin Luther, you are getting the truth. And the first truth is a hard one that comes barreling at us out of our Gospel from Saint John where Jesus says, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”

We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We do not like this idea very much. It goes against everything we might like to think about ourselves and about how life works. I think that is why the writing by Chad Bird that I put on the front of our bulletin this week (you can read Chad Bird’s brilliant piece on the “Deathbead Defeats: Five Failures I Hope to Achieve Before I Die” and his other great writing at: http://birdchadlouis.wordpress.com/) caught my eye – because upon first glance the failures he says he hopes to achieve sound so opposite of how we normally are told we ought to live. What does he mean he hopes to fail to follow his heart? That’s crazy! But then we read further and we recognize he is just describing our Christian walk and how we can’t use our own hearts as our guide, but rather God’s word needs to be the light to our path.

He hopes to fail at being one of whom all people speak well. What? We all want to be liked and we don’t want to be busy upsetting people, do we? But it was Jesus himself who said “woe to you when all speak well of you.” We should be upsetting some people if we are busy being about sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus upset a lot of people with his message of radical inclusion and completely undeserved love. He upset many by always placing people before protocol.

He hopes to fail to devote his life to the pursuit of happiness. He recognizes the key truth that the pursuit of our human ideal of happiness is far different from the sacred thing called joy. In addition to this piece, this author wrote another brilliant piece this week and it had to do with this idea of things that humans think will bring them happiness as opposed to what actually brings joy. It was a reflection on the new television program that just started airing on Showtime called “The Affair.” The premise of the show is that there are these two people who are in marriages that are fine but not really very exciting anymore, and they have endured the usual difficulties that come over the course of a life together, but now they have met each other and feel this immense attraction and are thinking they have found their “soul mate” and hence, the name of the show, “The affair.” There is a happiness they are pursuing and they feel like they have no control over it. Chad Bird writes, “falling in love” has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with love. No exceptions. It is not the prelude to love, nor the foundation of love, nor the ongoing nurture of love. What we term “falling in love” is stumbling into a state of emotional bliss with another person. True love, on the other hand, is the willful choice to act selflessly for another person, to commit yourself to that person, regardless of the emotional ups and downs. A man and woman who commit adultery together cannot love each other. It’s impossible. That’s like saying two people who are stabbing each other are giving life to each other. If they loved each other, they wouldn’t be harming each other through adultery, harming their spouses and children, and living a lie. Adultery begins in selfishness, continues in selfishness, and breeds yet more selfishness. It is not, and cannot be, a relationship of love. They may mouth the words, “I love you,” but what they really mean is, “You are meeting my selfish emotional needs and I am meeting yours.”

I thought the words he wrote were so strong and good and right on. It doesn’t mean that divorce is always the wrong choice – sometimes divorce is very much the right choice, but faithfulness while in that covenant of marriage, raising Godly children if you have them, remaining diligent at work, being truthful in our words, all of these things show we are pursuing God’s will and bring such greater joy than simply pursuing our own vague vision of “happiness.” God’s vision for our future is far, far greater than our own vision.

Bird next writes that he hopes to fail to believe in himself. Certainly it is important to have confidence and to do our best – but far more beautiful than confidence is humility and the recognition that however brilliant or talented or accomplished you are, you wouldn’t be much without a Creator who made you and a Savior who died for you.

And finally, Bird says he hopes he fails to be a first place winner. Maybe this is the most difficult one of all to swallow. Because we know it feels good to get the prize, to receive the honor, to gather up that promotion, and it’s very tempting to treat all those things as the most important thing. But it just isn’t. Not according to Jesus. Rather, in the eyes of Jesus we are shining the brightest when we are lifting up others. When we humble ourselves so others can receive the spotlight. When we sacrifice comforts and honors so that someone else might have such things.

I love underscoring all these failures that Bird wrote about because they illustrate very well how much we have affection for sin rather than the truth. Because all of us can resonate with wanting to follow our hearts, or wanting people to speak well of us, or wanting to pursue happiness, or wanting to believe in ourselves, or wanting to win first place. There are a thousand “buts” that rise up out of us as the knee-jerk reaction to thinking any of those things could possibly be bad or wrong. And that is sin, right there. We love it. Most days we would rather cuddle right up to it and go with the flow of what culture and our own senses tell us rather than sit with the hard truth of living the life Jesus calls us to live.

But thank goodness there is another truth which must be proclaimed on this Reformation day. There is not only the truth that we are slaves to sin. There is also the truth that we desperately need to hear. The truth about God’s great love for us. It comes through loud and clear in the first reading for this day, where after acknowledging that Israel — and, let’s be honest, all of us — shattered God’s covenant and commands, God still says, “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sin no more.” God doesn’t just forgive but also forgets. God develops a case of intentional amnesia when it comes to our sin and regards us as if we were perfect, blameless and whole. God regards us, that is, as if we were Christ.

Now this is a beautiful truth, but not necessarily an easier truth. Because here’s the thing: as much as it hurts being justly accused, sometimes it hurts even more when we’re unjustly forgiven. This may be hard to explain at first, but maybe a story will help.

When I was in my first semester of seminary, I was taking an Old Testament class plus a few other classes and everything was going fine. I was getting good grades, I was working a lot, I was spending time with friends. I thought I was the picture perfect seminary student. But then the very last week of my first quarter, everything kind of collapsed at once. I got really sick with the flu, I had a car accident that totaled my car and left me in a cast, and my boyfriend of two years broke up with me. I was miserable. I just had this one paper left to finish before the quarter was done and I could have a few weeks off to recuperate. I knew I would be fine if I could just get this one paper done. But I would stare at the computer screen and try to work on this paper but I just couldn’t come up with any words. It didn’t occur to me to ask for an extension, because I never had before. But the hours and days were ticking by and I had to get this stupid paper in. And what did I decide to do? I plagiarized about three pages from a book – used someone else’s words to finish what I couldn’t get finished myself. And I got caught.

That was pretty much the worst feeling I had ever felt. To know I had made such a ridiculously bad decision and I had gotten caught. I was humiliated and I figured, well, that was it. I would drop out of that school. I was too ashamed to even fathom continuing on there. I wrote a letter of apology to the dean and to my advisor and said I would be dropping out.

But you know what? They asked me to reconsider. I wasn’t ready to give myself a break, to forgive myself for what I had done, but they were. What I deserved was to be kicked out, but what they gave me was another chance. And that new chance wasn’t easy – because it meant I had to walk back onto that campus and face the dean and my advisor and the professor who knew what I had done. I had to humbly begin the next quarter knowing I was anything but the picture-perfect seminarian, and live into the knowledge that I was welcome and encouraged to be there regardless.

I’ve never, ever told anyone that story before. But now that enough time has passed I can see how maybe it was the perfect lesson for the fledgling pastor I was and perhaps for all of us on Reformation day. That there are two great truths to who we are as Christians and they must both be told. That we cannot skip too quickly to the second truth of God’s great forgiveness before we admit the fullness of how true it is that we are all slaves to sin. We all make really bad choices sometimes, and oftentimes our sin is so ingrained into who we are that we don’t even realize how sinful we are…but still, we come here to this place, and we confess those things – humbly – and we don’t receive what we deserve for those things, instead, we receive forgiveness.

I’m so thankful for that grace. How about you? Brothers and sisters, as God has promised to forgive you, now forgive yourself. Whatever you have done, whatever you have said or thought, God washes the repentant heart in grace, and there is always the chance to do better moving forward. Please grant that same grace to yourself. Treat yourself and others kindly. Know you are loved and forgiven this Reformation Day and always. Thanks be to God. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Admissions and Confessions

It was a stark and disquieting day – the day he admitted that he didn’t really believe in Jesus.

He admitted it as he was reading the Bible and all he could think about were the questions he had swirling around in his head.  The scripture said, “whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  He admitted that he wasn’t particularly interested in being servant of anyone, much less of everyone.

He admitted it as he thought about all the questions he had about how the Holy Spirit worked through the waters of baptism and the bread and wine of Communion.

He admitted it as he thought about how on the surface he appeared to be a very ‘good’ Christian.  However he knew very well that underneath that very thin veneer there was a man who lived stingily and cautiously, and not like someone who really ever believed in a gospel of transformation.

He admitted that if he was truthful with himself, he didn’t want to give away his hard-earned money to the poor.  Sure, he desired to help the starving children in Africa – but honestly, he really, really desired a flat-screen plasma television.

He admitted that any shred of faith he had now was completely unrecognizable from the faith he had as a child or even as a younger adult.

He thought that admitting all these things might spin his faith off into some void, that he might somehow become lost forever in a sea of agnostics and atheists with no way back.

Rather, it led him back home again.   His admissions, his confessions, reminded him why he so desperately needed a Savior.  By refusing to just play the part of a Christian anymore, he was coming closer to being the real thing than he had in a long time.

 

Bedtime Prayer

Bedtime Prayer

She laid down that night in her quiet bed

A myriad of prayers swirled around in her head.

And as she settled into her pillow and began to pray

These are the things she decided to say:

“Dear Lord, I thank you that I’m not like the rest

I thank you that I understand how much I’ve been blessed.

I thank you for my brain and my strength and my heart

I thank you for my willingness to often do my part.

And so there are just a few things I want to request tonight

Because I’ve been fairly faithful, adequately contrite.

I pray that you make me care for others just enough –

Just enough so that others won’t call my bluff

I pray that you give me strength to work hard –

Hard enough so that others give me regard.

And I only pray for money because I want to give so much

And of course I would like some new clothes and such.

Please bless your children all around –

But especially those of us in this little town.

Help us to follow you and do your will

Especially if it isn’t too difficult to fulfill.

And Lord, finally I have one last request

There’s one last thing I’d merely like to suggest:

You have given me so many gifts to share –

I’m a natural leader, I’m kind, and I care!

I’m able to follow your Word pretty well;

At witness, forgiveness, and humility, I excel!

Oh, the magnificent things I will accomplish, all for Thee –

If you’ll only help others notice the greatness in me!

Then she ended her prayer with “Amen” and a frown.

Because in her head one nagging thought still circled ‘round

“Dear God, by the way, you didn’t really mean it, right?

That the last

will be first of all

in your sight?

The Letter

Driving back there always felt like she was being transported back in time.  Almost as if to confirm this sentiment, she switched on the radio and wasn’t surprised to hear the local station playing Van Morrison, followed by Sam and Dave.

Margaret was on her way home…well, a place that used to be home.  She actually didn’t have any family left there anymore, but it was time for her fortieth class reunion, and she decided she wanted to go to this one. 

She’d had the past on her mind lately and thought maybe it would be good to go back.  Maybe it would be good to see some old faces and remember some old stories.  Maybe it would help make sense of some of the things she had been dealing with lately.  Especially as she thought about the letter she had gotten this week, she hoped that revisiting the past could hold some answers for her future.

She had been driving nearly three hours after leaving work early so that she wouldn’t get into town too late.  It felt good to be putting some miles between her and the office.  She was tired. So tired.  Usually, at the end of the day lately all she had the energy to do was heat up something in the microwave and fall asleep on her sofa with the cat curled up on her stomach.

Margaret sometimes felt like she could actually feel the bags under her eyes getting a little heavier, the gray hairs appearing more and more plentifully.  It usually didn’t bother her, but lately it did.  Somewhere along the way, time had seemingly accelerated with each year since she left the hometown that she could now see appearing in the distance.  She reached into her purse for a piece of gum and frowned as she felt the outline of the letter she had placed in there earlier. 

As she drew closer to the lights of the town, she thought about her old classmates.  What had the years brought them?  She wondered if some had grandchildren by now?  Were the high school sweethearts were still married?  How was everyone doing after all this time?

Margaret tried to busy herself with these thoughts – but truthfully, what was most on her mind wasn’t her old classmates – rather, she was wondering and worrying.  She was trying to figure out where so much had gone so wrong.  She said out loud, to God and to herself, “What in the world am I going to do?” as she couldn’t stop thinking about the contents of that pale ivory envelope in her purse.

It was past suppertime now.  The reunion didn’t start until tomorrow, so she was trying to decide whether to go directly to the hotel, or to drive by the family farm.  Nobody lived in the old farmhouse anymore but she and her brothers and sisters still owned it and the land.  Her brothers and nephews still came back there to go hunting and fishing.  She only debated a moment before turning down that country highway she knew by heart. 

Past the country church on the hill, past the abandoned schoolhouse, past Hanson’s barn and the old Johnson house she drove and felt the anticipation rising in her chest.  She turned onto the dirt road that always used to get so muddy in the spring, went over the hill where her oldest brother had his first car accident, and up the long driveway where she had learned to drive a stick shift.  And she was home.  Home.

No matter how much time had passed, every time she came back Margaret still half expected to see the yard light switch on as her dad used to do when he would hear a car pull up after dark.  No matter that it had been decades since her mother had died – she couldn’t help but glance up at the kitchen window where her mom would have been pulling aside the curtain about now to see who was coming.

She stopped the car in front of the house and got out.  Everything was quiet.  The only light came from the nearly full moon and the cool stars overhead.  She pulled on her jacket, grabbed the letter from her purse, and wandered around the yard, observing everything and nothing in particular. 

Memories were soaked into everything here  – moments shared with her brothers and sisters and then with her children when they were small and she would bring them here and they would run and play in the woods and on the hills.  These days when she came back, sometimes she felt lonesome for the soil itself that everyone had left it behind.

She walked up on the front porch and sat down on a folding chair that remained.  The air was chilly but she wanted to stay a while and think….because this used to be a good spot to figure things out.  She had always felt like she could hear God more clearly when she was there…and she hoped the same thing would be true tonight.

Margaret pulled the letter out of her pocket.  In the moonlight, she could just barely make out the words on the page.  Truthfully, she didn’t need the letter anymore – she’d had it memorized for days, but she still stared at it as if it were some strange language she didn’t yet understand.

The letter read:  Dear Margaret,  “Due to a change in business operations, your department and every job in it will be eliminated. Your position will no longer exist and you won’t be replaced. We are sorry to inform you that you will be laid off from your position as of December 1st”The letter went on with some brief formalities and then ended with a tidy, “We appreciate the work you have done.”

Twenty-two years she had worked for them.  Twenty-two years she had given them – rarely taking a sick day.  She had put in the long hours, the extra time.  No, she hadn’t particularly loved the job itself or found it to be exceptionally challenging, but it had been comfortable and she always received compliments on her work.  Plus, she had so many good friends there.  That would be the hardest part about leaving…many of her co-workers were the friends who had comforted her when her parents died, and when the divorce came out of nowhere.  They had celebrated birthdays and holidays together for years. 

And now, as of December 1st, she would no longer be a part of that place.  She would no longer have the routine she was so comfortable with, daily contact with those friends, or a paycheck.

She felt hopeless as she sat on that porch, the same porch where she used to dream about all the endless possibilities…but now she simply felt discarded. 

The minutes ticked by.  She propped her feet up on the side of the porch railing and looked up at the stars.  She said out loud – to God and to herself – “Why?” 

She sat there for quite some time, thinking, listening. There was only silence.

So she thought it couldn’t hurt to elaborate.  She said, “Everything is a mess, God.  I don’t know how to start over, but I don’t have enough money to live on the rest of my life.  I can’t rely on my children who are just getting started with their own families.  I thought I was doing okay.  I thought I was doing enough.  Why does everything have to change now?”  She sighed. 

But an answer didn’t come from the heavens.  Instead, as Margaret sat there mired in the past, muddling with questions, and enveloped in silence -she spotted a flower pot on the corner of the porch.  It was a big clay pot – very plain, chipped and unattractive now from years of being beaten by the weather.  But as Margaret fixed her eyes on that pot she could remember the day her grandmother brought it over to their house and placed it there with a bright arrangement of artificial daisies in it.  She had found it at a rummage sale. 

Oh how Margaret had loved her grandma who told intricate stories with a cup of coffee next to her and her hands busily working on her embroidery.  What was it she always used to say?  She was trying to remember – there was something Grandma would say whenever someone in the family was muddling with a decision.  She’d say it whenever someone was feeling too sorry for themselves.  She told Margaret she had said it to herself a million times when her husband had died at an early age and she had to raise their three children alone.  What was it again?  And then Margaret remembered – she would say, “Begin to weave and God will give the thread.”

“Begin to weave and God will give the thread.”

 “Ah yes,” Margaret said.  It was close enough to a voice from the heavens for her.  If Moses could receive a message from God through something as strange as a burning bush, she’d happily accept hers through an old flower pot.  Margaret got up off her chair, folded the letter and placed it in the flower pot, and went over to her car.  Her eyes surveyed the house and the yard one last time before she got in the car and abruptly drove away. 

 And she did not go to the hotel.  She did not go to the reunion.  Instead, she drove back past the Johnson’s and the Hanson’s, past the abandoned schoolhouse and the country church, back to the Interstate, and headed back home. 

Yes, she was tired.  Tired from the long drive.  Tired from working too much and resting too little.  But she was mostly tired of looking behind.  So tired of pondering the years that had passed and worrying over what was long gone…and frankly, she had been tired of her old job, too.  It had just been so comfortable, so steady. She had been living so cautiously and carefully, so dutifully following her routine – it had been effortless to while away the years until suddenly twenty-two of them had gone by.  She said out loud, to God and to herself, “No more.”

In that night air, as she thought about the years to come, she could sense change and risk and new beginnings floating around everywhere – and suddenly she didn’t fear it anymore.  And she wasn’t sure why, but something in it all felt sacred – as she drove off toward her future that night.

 

Dreams

This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:

“In the Last Days,” God says,
“I will pour out my Spirit
on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions,
your old men dream dreams.
When the time comes,
I’ll pour out my Spirit
On those who serve me, men and women both,
and they’ll prophesy.
I’ll set wonders in the sky above
and signs on the earth below,

Who cannot love a text like this one?  Anytime in the church year is a good time for dreaming, and any scripture is a good landscape for dreams and hopes – yet, I think on Pentecost this is particularly so. 

And who doesn’t love a dream?  I remember not long ago I watched a video of the speech given on August 28, 1963 by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – his famous “I Have A Dream” speech – and the beginning of it was obviously something he had written down and taken a great amount of time to craft and it was very good – but it was after he had already been talking for a while when he seemed to go off script – stopped reading off the page and just started talking about the dream of freedom he had for his children and the generations to come.  Even watching just a recording of that speech, fifty years after he first spoke those words, I could feel the electricity and energy of that moment.  It has been written that right before his speech shifted course, Mahalia Jackson had cried out, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” And so he did – and as he did it captured the imagination and the hope of everyone who heard it.  In the wake of that speech, King was named Man of the Year by TIME magazine for 1963, and in 1964, he was the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

Who doesn’t love a dream?  We must have them.  What is life without them?  We need the dance of possibility, the song of hope, the whisper of challenge within dreams.  Gloria Steinem wrote, “If our dreams weren’t already real within us, we could not even dream them.”  The great C.S. Lewis said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” And don’t forget the poet Henry David Thoreau who said, Do not lose hold of your dreams or aspirations. For if you do, you may still exist but you have ceased to live.

I think I have your attention.  There is something inside us that needs to have dreams and desires in order to feel alive.  We understand the language of dreams because we are human beings and not robots or machines.  We are created of blood and bone and flesh and the Spirit of the living God – and thus we were created to be dreamers.

I like to tell the story of a classmate of mine from kindergarten through high school – her name is Karen.  She grew up just down the road from me outside our little hometown in Minnesota.  Karen was quiet, but well-liked.  She was active in many activities, liked to draw and play piano.  Somewhere along the way Karen started saying she was going to be an astronaut.  She said it in a matter-of-fact way – like I said I thought I’d become a pastor, and our friend Jamie wanted to own a restaurant.  We all had our dreams and our teachers and parents encouraged each of us and there was never any doubt that we would become those things we dreamed about.  So the wonderful thing was that none of us were surprised when our dreams came true – when Jamie opened her restaurant and when I was ordained and when Karen finally went up on the space shuttle – there was no surprise for any of us. There was happiness, but we had believed in our dreams all along – that was a gift our teachers and parents gave us.  That sense that with hard work and a good attitude, eventually dreams came true.

But the thing that is perplexing to me is that it seems like we treat dreams as something that are only for the young.  As if once we get to a certain age, that dreams become not a sign of good things – like strength and aspiration and hope and persistence, but rather of foolishness and wishful thinking.  And yet, in our scripture for today it clearly says that your young men will see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.  We were not meant to quit dreaming.  We were not meant to just have one dream and once that comes true, call it quits – rather, the dreams within each of us have a holy and certain reason for being there. Far from foolish, far from wishful thinking – we are quite simply, given dreams in order to keep working to make them a reality.

It’s true in life and it is true in work and it is true in the church.

In his book, the 4-hour work week, Timothy Ferris tells a story about a man named Hans who tried paragliding for the first time in Rio de Janeiro.  He describes how Hans ran and stepped off a jagged rock toward 3,000 feet of nothing, holding his breath, he wondered if he would pass out he was so scared – and then he realized he was floating through the air.  He said he left his fear behind on that mountain top and life was different after that.  That moment happened on a Sunday and on Monday Hans returned to work at his law office in California and handed in his three-week notice.  For the last ten years he had faced his alarm clock with the same dread – he would think, “I have to do this for the next 35-40 years?” 

But he said he realized something while he was paragliding – that risks weren’t that scary once you took them.  His colleagues told him what he expected to hear – he was throwing it all away.  He was an attorney on his way to the top – what more did he want?

Hans didn’t know exactly what he wanted but he had tasted it in that moment when he faced his fears and flew.  On the other hand, he did know what bored him to tears, and he was done with it.  No more passing days as the living dead, no more dinners where his colleagues compared cars.  It was over.

Immediately, a strange shift began to happen – Hans felt, for the first time in a long time, at peace with himself and what he was doing.  He had always been terrified of plane turbulence, as if he might die with the best inside of him, but now he could fly through a violent storm sleeping like a baby.  Strange indeed.

More than a year later, he was still getting unsolicited job offers from law firms, but by then he had started his own surf-adventure company based in Brazil.  He spent a lot of time relaxing under palm trees and treating clients to the best time of their lives.

He smiles as he thinks to himself, “Is this what I was so afraid of?”

A popular fortune cookie saying reads, “Many a false step was made by standing still.” 

I wonder what dreams are sitting out there in those pews today. What hopes and aspirations you hold.  Is it a journey you have been wanting to make?  Is it the novel you have been trying to write?  Is it the classes you wish you could take, the business you wanted to start, the long race you wanted to run, is it project you are certain would be a blessing to the church, the community – and you feel like you might just be the one with the gifts and passion to lead it?  If it is a dream that sticks with you, a thought that you cannot shake, a tapping on your shoulder that won’t go away – there’s a name for that – and it’s more than a dream – it’s a calling.  And the only way to deal with a calling is to listen and answer “yes.”  Well, that or ignore it and grow ulcers and probably grow depressed – but I would go with the answering yes.    As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.”

And while the lessons of remembering the genius and power of our dreams is important for each of us personally, we must remember them as a church as well.  Our church, as most churches, was built on the hopes and dreams of the first settlers who longed for a church home and they planned and they built and lo, there was a church. 

But sometimes churches stop dreaming about possibilities.  Is it because worries become more pressing than dreams?  Or is it because we don’t want to get our hopes up?  Or is it because we don’t really believe God’s promise to always be with us whenever we move forward in faith?  Or is it just plain fear?

Friends, this Pentecost day and always – Jesus has more in mind for us than fear. God has a dream for us – a dream that is realized as the Holy Spirit works through us just as it did through the first disciples when they were empowered to share the good news.  God has a dream for us that we will not be content to remain the same but to grow and evolve and keep finding new ways to love and serve him with our every life and breath.  God has a dream for us – that we will be brave and true, not timid and fearful.  That we will work for justice and peace, even and especially when it is hard.  God has a dream for us – that we not only want to share this faith with the generations that follow us, but that we will pray for this Holy spirit to burn in their hearts and give them absolute fire of will to serve Jesus with all their days.  Do not lose heart, because God has a dream for us – for you – and as the apostle wrote – I am sure that the God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns.  In his name we pray.  Amen.