Sermon June 21, 2020

There is a African folk story of Sankofa – the story begins with a bird named Sankofa. She grows up in her community being confident in herself and loving life. One day, she decides to sneak away from her village. When she does, she meets a bird who insults her and causes her to doubt herself.

Sankofa has to return to her village in order to find herself again and confront this “voice” of the big bird. She is supported by all of her friends and ancestors. When she returns to the bird with her own sense of self-knowledge, the other bird disappears.

When she returns back to her village, her image is carved so that other youth in the village can remember her and her story. Because she had forgotten from where she came, she is depicted with her neck turned backwards.

The “Sankofa” has become a metaphorical symbol used by the Akan people of Ghana, generally depicted as a bird with its head turned backward taking an egg from its back. It expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress.

I love that symbolism. It’s so important that we learn from the past.

Kaj Munk was a Danish Lutheran pastor and playwright – and was a strong opponent of the German Occupation of Denmark (1940–1945). Several of His plays were direct attacks on Nazism. Despite friends who urged Munk to go underground, he continued to preach against Danes who collaborated with the Nazis.

The Gestapo arrested Munk on the night of 4 January 1944, a month after he had defied a Nazi ban and preached the first Advent sermon at the national cathedral in Copenhagen. Munk’s body was found in a roadside ditch the next morning.

Munk preached and wrote against the injustice of his time. He said, “What is, therefore, our task today? Shall I answer: ‘Faith, hope and love’? That sounds beautiful. But I would say ‘courage.’ No, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth.

Our task today is recklessness. For what we Christians lack is not psychology or literature. We lack a holy rage – the recklessness which comes from the knowledge of God and humanity. The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets, and when the lie rages across the face of the earth – a holy anger about the things that are wrong in the world. To rage against the ravaging of God’s earth, and the destruction of God’s world. To rage when little children must die of hunger when the tables of the rich are sagging with food. To rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction peace. To rage against complacency. To restlessly seek to change human history until it conforms to the norms of the Kingdom of God.

And remember the signs of the Christian church have been the lion, the lamb, the dove and the fish, but never the chameleon.”

Munk’s words have been echoing in my brain the last days. I wonder if we Christians in the year 2020 are brave enough to speak against injustice in our own time? Have we learned from the past? Are we willing to rage against injustice – even though that might feel upsetting and go against our inclination to keep everything nice.

I like to keep things nice. I admit that. I have prided myself on being a nice person. I like nice people. I always thought being nice was a good thing – and of course it is…But it is imperative we don’t forget that this faith in Jesus Christ is about so much more than being nice. In the gospel for today, Jesus says, “Don’t think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” The word of God – while comforting at times can also be convicting. It calls us to take a hard look at ourselves and our actions.

As followers of Jesus, he calls us to work for a better world and justice for all. It calls us to be uncomfortable sometimes – to risk having not everybody like us in order that we speak up for what is right.  Jesus understands discipleship as a series of choices made daily – to follow Jesus or to chase after something else. Jesus desires our sole allegiance. He even encourages us to pick up a cross and follow. Make no mistake – a cross made of wood is heavy. It cannot be casually thrown over a shoulder along with other things. Instead, carrying a cross takes a certain determination and persistence. But in doing so, Jesus promises we find life. Not comfort. Not ease. Life.

We have too often confused being Christian with being nice. Being a Christian does not mean being nice – it means being filled with holy anger at injustice. Being a Christian does not mean being nice – it means calling out those who treat any life as being less than other lives – no matter that person’s race or what side of the border they were born on. Being a Christian does not mean being nice – it means refusing to accept what is wrong with the world and working to be the change we want to see in the world. And as we do, we come to understand the fullness of life Jesus offers.

Usually when I pray for people, I pray for the peace that passes all understanding – but these days I also pray for us to have a bit more holy rage. A good measure of dissatisfaction with the way things are and a deep longing to use our energy to work for justice and goodness for one another. I pray for us to experience a thirst to learn about other cultures and issues and problems that we may not have paid any attention to in the past.

There’s a famous quote that reads, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” In the spirit of Sankofa, that West African folk story, in the spirit of Kaj Munk, the Lutheran pastor who died rather than keep quiet about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Let’s learn from the lessons that life and history has taught us, and pray for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and strength to work for justice and goodness for one another.

Let’s pray – dear God, we pray you guide us in these times. There’s so much hurt all around and we pray for all in need. Teach us how to care for one another as all children of the same Heavenly Father. Help us to lay down our pride and be willing to be instructed in the ways of justice and what each of us can do to work toward lasting peace. How might we do that this week? Show us, Oh God.

God, we pray for all who are struggling in body, mind, or spirit. We pray for your healing presence to be with all in any need – those who are recovering from surgery or are healing from an injury. We pray for those who feel lost or despondent. Help us to uplift one another with kindness and caring concern.

Dear God, we pray for our congregation during this time of worshipping differently. Unite us with your love and grace. Help us to invite others in and reach out to those who may be feeling isolated. Draw us all near to you.

Oh God, for these precious summer days, for friends, for family, for long evening shadows, for the cool breeze on the lake, the laughter of children, the smell of good food cooking, honest work, music – and all the millions upon millions of moments that make life worth living – we give you thanks. May we never stop giving you thanks and praise.

We pray these prayers and the prayers in our hearts in the name of Jesus. Amen.

The Reverend Dr. Ruth E. Hetland

What Does God say about Love

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love. (I John 4:7-8)

12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. (Colossians 3:12-14)

34-35 “Jesus said, Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:34-35)

16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.  (John 3:16-18)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.I Corinthians 13:4-8 

Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. 10 Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another. 11 Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. 12 Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. 13 Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers. (Romans 12:9-12)

A message on Living a Life of Love

Immediately

Sermon – December 29, 2019

Beginning today and going through Easter, the Sunday morning readings are centered on the gospel of Mark. Mark is considered to be the oldest, the first of the four gospels written. It is very similar in nature to Matthew and Luke.

Each of the four gospels begin very differently. The gospel of John begins with beautiful poetry about the Word of God coming into the world. If you remember just last year at this time when we were beginning the Gospel of Matthew we saw how Matthew chose to begin his gospel with a long lineage of ancestry – reminding us of where and from whom Jesus was descended. And both Luke and Mark begin by sharing about John the Baptist.

John the Baptist is a well-known figure of the new testament. He is known for several reasons. Partly because of his unusual appearance and habits. It was said that he dressed and ate very differently than most everyone else. And he acted differently than others as well – everything he did and said pointed other people toward someone else. He baptized Jesus in the Jordan.  But this gospel doesn’t linger very long on John or on anything – it is the shortest gospel by far – in fact, it’s possible that this gospel was written so that it could be easily memorized and told aloud.

Mark was written for a wide audience. This gospel focuses on Jesus’ role as the suffering servant and son of God. While the other gospels contain long teachings and sermons of Jesus, Mark is all about action. This is where we see Jesus doing things, and then doing more things. Of the four gospels, Mark reads most like a story.

After eight verses about John the Baptist, chapter 1 of Mark takes us on a whirlwind – from Jesus’ time in the wilderness to the beginning of his ministry and then the calling of his disciples.

It’s very action-oriented – the word “immediately” shows up frequently – 44 times in the 16 short chapters of Mark. 

Immediately.
In some ways I love the gospel of Mark – it’s kind of like the Cliff’s Notes of the gospels. You can read it fast and get the bulk of the story. But in other ways it is my least favorite because I love the rich imagery that we get to linger over in John and getting to hear the inside stories and details found in the other gospels.

But I think that’s because in general I’m tired of so many things being immediate all the time, trying to cram too many things into a day. I’m tired of telling my kids to “hurry up” constantly. It’s become a joke in our house – but kind of a sad joke, I think – because apparently I am forever telling my kids to hustle, and “there’s no time”. Like many, many families, it feels like we cram so much into our days that we are constantly rushing around from one thing to the next – feeling like there is so much to do and rarely feeling like we are doing a good job at any of it.

Immediately. Fortunately, though – even though it is a quick gospel – there’s a lot packed in there – And lucky you – because over the next three months you will get to hear a different perspective on this gospel from all sorts of different preachers! Twelve different preachers! You are going to have so much fun and learn so much. I’m so happy for you – even though I’m going to miss you.

And me, I get to shove that word “immediately” out of my mind for a little while. Or at least I will do my best.

Someone asked me shortly after our congregation received the Lilly Grant what a sabbatical is. It comes from the word sabbath – which means to rest. The intention of a sabbatical sometimes is to produce something – like sometimes professors will use the time to write a book – but in its purest form, a sabbatical is a time apart to rest with the intention that when you return, your mind and body will have had a chance to be renewed.

I hope that’s true. Even though I am only a couple days away from the beginning of my sabbatical, I still can’t imagine how it is going to feel to intentionally step away from work, but I know it will be good for me and for my family. I feel guilty because I know not everyone gets a gift like this – and I think everyone absolutely should. Rest is so important, time with family is so important. One of my main goals for these next weeks is to not rush. Unless we are about to miss a plane or something. Otherwise, I just want us to be. No ‘immediately’ for me. I know that is what I need. Down to my bones, I am certain that is what my life, my ministry, my family needs. And so I promise not to take a minute for granted of this time of rest. Pray for me that it will be a time for the Spirit to speak afresh into my heart so I can return to you energized for all that is yet ahead.

And I will pray for you, too. That these next months hold whatever you are needing, too. Is it healing you are needing?  Is it more of peace? More of health?  Less of worry? Whatever it is you are needing, please know I pray for that refreshment and renewal for you as well.

If there is anything I know, it is that our God is faithful and near. I think sometimes we get so busy or brokenhearted or hardened that maybe we forget or can’t see it – but that doesn’t make it any less true. God is faithful. God is near.

And I pray you feel that. Feel God’s Holy Spirit granting you the peace and wholeness you need, the unburdening you are craving, the grace and forgiveness God has promised. God is faithful. God is near. Remember that, dear friends.

Let us pray…

What Does God Think of Me?

Many of us are spending more time on the internet and on computers than we ever have before just trying to stay in touch with each other and communicate differently for our work. When I was on a Zoom call earlier this week with some members of our congregation and I asked them what were some of the good things that had come for them out of this time of isolation, a few of them said that they had learned a lot more about how to use things they had never used before. The internet and many tools available through the internet were less scary to them now because they had come to realize how useful they could be.

Indeed, it’s a whole new world. I’m learning things every day – and it is both exhilarating and exhausting. I feel like I walk around saying to myself, “Why am I so tired?” a lot lately – and I know I am not the only one. These are strange times and they take a different kind of energy and a different way of thinking and doing than we are used to. There’s the tiring stuff of having to figure out how to order your groceries online or how to play a game online with friends instead of getting together in person – but then the cool realizations you can do all that and once you know how, it is kind of fun. We had our Saint Peters Trivia night this past week and not only did Saint Peters people play but so did some of my family from over in New York Mills. And because of technology we’ve had our readers for Sunday morning sharing readings not just from Audubon but from Alabama and Arizona. It’s a wonderful thing how connected we still are – just in new ways.

I was talking to a pastor friend about preaching in this time after Easter during Covid-19 and we expressed how strange it is and how it’s hard to even know what to talk about that might be helpful. You know that in our church and many churches we have a certain set of scriptures that are set up beforehand that we know we will be preaching on and those scriptures are often the same at different churches – so if you visit a church in California or even Australia, they could very well be preaching on the same text on the same Sunday as your home church.

But sometimes we go rogue and leave behind the prescribed scriptures for a while to do something else. And we are going to be doing that for a few weeks now. Instead, I am going to be talking about what people most want to know.

How in the world do I know what people are wondering about the most? Well, through the wonders of modern technology, of course. Have you ever noticed how when you type something into google, there will come up options below it for finishing your sentence? That’s Google trying to guess what you want to know more about – and google’s guesses come up in order of what they are most searched for.

So I typed into Google, “What does God think of…”

And below it there was a whole list of options – all coming from what people have typed in the most. Top of the list? “What does God think of me?”

That surprised me at first. Further down the list were topics you might expect – forgiveness, marriage, divorce, anxiety, fear – but at the very top of the list, “What does God think of me.”

But then I thought about things we type into search engines. A lot of times we are looking for answers to the things we think about – maybe even things not everyone is always talking about. Because there is something safer about typing a question into a search engine rather than asking even your best friend.

Sure, we care about what God thinks about the things we talk about a lot – like forgiveness, marriage, divorce, worry, fear, etc – but late at night, when I am scared or sad or feeling “less than” or defeated? Maybe all I care about is what the God who made me thinks of me. Or if God even thinks of me at all.

So, we turn to scripture for wisdom – and when we do, we find some reassuring words.

The first is that we are God’s children, God’s family. We hear that in I John – “Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!” And in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but members of the household of God!” And not only are we loved by God for now – but for always – as we read in Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, the Lord is with you wherever you God.”

What does God think of you? God thinks of you as God’s own. Loved. A member of God’s family. So whether during this time of physical distancing from others you have been in a house full of people or mostly by yourself, God is there with you. God is always with you wherever you go or don’t go.

What else does scripture say about what God thinks of you? God apparently thinks you are pretty unique and capable because in Jeremiah it reads that God has plans for you. Not just any old plans – plans to give you future and hope! It’s a beautiful verse – but if we look at it in its’ context, we realize this passage is written to a whole group of people—an entire nation. And if we read the verses around it, we realize that this promise God is giving to the nation of Israel is something that would be fulfilled in 70 years time. So the blessing is not individual and it is not immediate – it’s a blessing that is different than the kind of blessing we often would like.

But that is also important to remember. Yes, God sees you and loves you – but God sees and loves all God’s children. We are connected to one another. If one member of our community hurts, we all hurt. If one member rejoices, we all rejoice. We are connected to one another. I think we have learned lessons in that even moreso in recent weeks. We stay home and isolate so that the most vulnerable in our midst can stay well. We sacrifice activities and events that mean so much to us because the health and welfare of the whole matter more than our events schedule.

What does God think of you? God thinks of you as valuable and someone through whom there is future and hope – but not just you, you and your neighbor, and that stranger down the road, and that person you disagree with on the news, and all God’s children.

And I’ll highlight one more thing God thinks about you. In Galatians 2:20 it reads, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” And in I Corinthians it reads, “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation, the old has gone the new has come.”

In case you haven’t noticed it yet, let me highlight that our God is a God of new beginnings. Our God isn’t a God of death, but of resurrection. God doesn’t give us a word of staying exactly the same but of growth and renewal. God doesn’t leave us buried in sin, but alive in grace and mercy. The old has gone, the new has come.

So, what does God think of you? Well, precious enough to sacrifice God’s son for – but also always on the cusp of a new beginning – no matter what age we are. God can’t wait to see what is yet to be born in us and through us. What we might yet do to bring joy to a neighbor or how we might use our God-given talents to surprise and bless the world. I picture God chuckling with delight at the new things we create or think of or say. In the same way that we are delighted as we see our own children growing and becoming and evolving – God looks at us with love and pride and joy our whole lives long.

If you have ever wondered what God thinks of you, you aren’t alone. But rest assured that God sees you and loves you just as you are. God covers you with grace and mercy – you are forgiven. And God can’t wait to see what you will yet do with the life and breath you are given.

Listen to an abbreviated audio version of this sermon here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1041448/3504592-saint-peter-s-sermon-highlights-april-26-2020

What Does the Bible Say about Anxiety and Worry?

Anxiety and Worry…What does the Bible say?
“An anxious heart weighs a person down, but a kind word cheers” (Proverbs 12:25, NIV).
“I sought the LORD, and the Lord heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
“Then Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you
by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?’” (Luke 12:22-26, NIV). (Matthew 6:25-34)
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5).
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge the Lord, and the Lord will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones” (Proverbs 3:5-8).
“…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And the One who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:26-28).
“And my God will meet all your needs according to God’s glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
“I can do everything through God who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6).
“…put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 131:1)

There are many different causes of anxiety and fear. The reasons are as various and unique as each individual person. These are human emotions and completely normal. If you are in need of help, please talk to a counselor, spiritual director, a pastor, or a good friend. Don’t stay silent or isolated – especially in these times of Covid-19 that are so stressful for so many. Help is always just a phone call away. Never forget – you are not alone and you are loved. If you are struggling, text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that God may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on God because God cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7)

What Does God Say About Fear?

In these strange times of Covid-19 I have been thinking more about fear and anxiety and how to think about it in terms of faith. There have been so many times when I am feeling anxious that turning to the Bible has been the only thing that has brought me comfort. So, if you are needing some peace, here are some of my favorite verses about fear from the Holy Bible.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” ~ Isaiah 41:10

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” ~ Psalm 94:19

 “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” ~ John 14:27

 “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”  ~ Psalm 56:3

 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:7

 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” ~ 1 John 4:18

 “But now, this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” ~ Isaiah 43:1

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” ~ Psalm 23:4

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” ~ Joshua 1:9

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” ~ Matthew 6:34

“Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that God will lift you up in God’s own good time.  Leave all your worries with God, because God cares for you.” ~ 1 Peter 5:6-7

“Tell everyone who is discouraged, Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue…” ~ Isaiah 35:4

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” ~ Luke 12:22-26

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” ~ Psalm 27:1

“Cast your cares on the Lord and the Lord will sustain you; the Lord will never let the righteous fall.” ~ Psalm 55:22

“Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” ~ Mark 6:50

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” ~ Deuteronomy 31:6

“’For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.  Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you,’ declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” ~ Isaiah 41:13-14

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” ~ Psalm 46:1

“The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  What can humans do to me?  The Lord is with me and is my helper.” ~ Psalm 118:6-7

“Fear of humans will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” ~ Proverbs 29:25

“Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” ~ Mark 4:39-40

“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear the Lord, and the Lord delivers them.” Psalm 34:7

“But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats.” ~ 1 Peter 3:14

“I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me.  The Lord freed me from all my fears.” ~ Psalm 34:4

“Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God will fight for you.” ~ Deuteronomy 3:22

“Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.’” ~ Revelation 1:17

“Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’” ~ Mark 5:36

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”…He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.  You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.  A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you…For he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways…“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.  He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him…” from Psalm 91:1-16

“I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” ~ Romans 8:38-39

In anxious time, I pray you can find comfort in God’s word and God’s love that surrounds you.

Sermon – Where Do You Find Your Peace? (10/8/17)

 

When I was reading the scripture for today from Philippians and how Paul writes that he counts all his accomplishments and credentials as nothing next to the beauty of knowing Christ, I was reminded of the story of Saint Francis of Assissi.

Saint Francis was the son of wealthy parents. In fact, his father named him Francis in honor of the country of France where he had gained great wealth as a cloth merchant.

Francis was intelligent and eventually became a merchant like his father. However, he liked to have a good time more than he liked to work. He like to be with his friends, party and dance. His biggest dreams when he was young were to become even richer and to be admired by all. When wartime came, Francis went to war with dreams of military glory.

However, he was captured and spent a year in prison and when he returned home, he was sick for a very long time. After that, Francis was changed. It troubled him that he was no longer happy with all the things that used to make him happy – the dancing, the partying, his things – nothing was bringing him joy.

So he began to listen closely for God’s direction and prayed often. He spent a great deal of time alone asking for God’s guidance.

Eventually he received direction from God – first, to rebuild an old church that was falling apart. As he was doing this work, his parents thought he had lost his mind and tried to get him to come back to the family business but he said, “I’ve realized that from now on only our father in Heaven is my father.”  He gave back to his parents everything they had ever given him and left to wander in the woods, singing, praying, and preaching now and then. He took to heart Jesus’ message to the apostles to “take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals.” He just existed with only what he had on his back, preached, prayed, fixed up old churches, and sang praises to God.

Eventually, others saw light in Francis and in the simple work he was doing. Others began to follow him. They learned from Francis and then he sent them out to preach and pray and teach more people about Jesus.

Francis saw poverty as a holy thing. When his followers met someone poorer than they, they would rip off their habit to give to the person. They wouldn’t accept money from anyone. They treated coins as if they were pebbles in the road. Francis said, “If we had any possessions we should need weapons and laws to defend them.” Possessing something was the death of love for Francis. Also, Francis reasoned, what could you do to a man who owns nothing? You can’t starve someone who is fasting, you can’t steal from someone who is penniless, you can’t ruin someone who doesn’t care about status. They were truly free.

In time, there were so many following Francis that he decided to go write down a few simple lines that described their way of life and went to the Pope to get his approval for their way of life based on poverty as it is found in the gospels.

The pope gave his blessing to Francis and his followers and they continued their work – helping others, and especially preaching. He left behind no opportunity to preach – in fact, one of the most infamous stories about him is that he preached a sermon to a group of birds once. He believed all of God’s creatures benefited from the good news of Jesus Christ. There are other stories of him being able to communicate with animals in extraordinary ways and this is one of the reasons the Catholic church recognizes him as the patron saint of animals.

Throughout his life he chose to live in poverty. He saw it as perfect joy, salvation, and virtue to endure suffering with patience and calm. At the end of his life he experienced great suffering – and it was in the midst of that he wrote the Canticle of the Sun – which we read part of as our opening litany today.

He died on October 3rd of 1226 at 45 years of age.

Like Paul, Francis found his joy in Christ Jesus. He found his identity in Jesus. He found his meaning, life, purpose, his peace in Jesus. The prayer of Saint Francis that is on the front of our bulletin today wasn’t written by him, but it was written to share the spirit of the peace he found only through Jesus Christ.

Where do we find our peace?

It’s a good question – maybe especially these days when it seems there is so little peace. When we hear news reports yet again of mass shootings. Yet again. Again and again. The shootings at Columbine High School happened the same spring I graduated from seminary – I was ordained a few months later. I remember how horrified we all were, what a strange and unheard-of thing it was. I had no idea that in the years to come we would hear again and again and again of people dying in mass shootings – in high schools, in elementary schools, at concerts, at nightclubs, at malls, at workplaces, at churches…you name it – wherever people gather, violence has found a way in.

And it seems like as soon as another incident happens, people start fighting with each other about why it has happened. Oh, we all have our opinions: Too many guns. Not enough God. God is punishing us for our sins. And whatever your opinion is, you get to have that opinion, but no opinion can take away the pain that countless families are feeling today.

The feelings that swirl around us and in us at times like this are overwhelming. Anger, utter disbelief, the sinking feeling of inevitability that we have heard this story so many times and we are sure now we will hear it again soon. More lives lost. Worry, worry, worry – for our children, for our friends, for ourselves.

It isn’t easy to preach on weeks like this. Because we need to hear a word of hope and sometimes hope seems so slim. Sometimes God seems all too silent. Sometimes I don’t want to look for the silver lining, tell stories about the heroes, the rescuers, all the good that happened even in the midst of the tragedy – I just want to mourn the unspeakable loss.  This was a hurricane of brokenness and we can’t begin to understand it. But you can’t end a sermon there.

So what can we do?

Well, gathering together here is a good start. At times when God seems silent, coming together for worship can feel like we are just going through the motions – and yet we trust that somehow, when God’s faithful people gather, healing happens. Here we are reminded of God’s word and God’s direction for our lives. Here we think of people like Saint Paul and Saint Francis – people who found meaning and purpose in serving Jesus Christ. We think of ways to follow in their footsteps and let go of things that are shallow and meaningless – excess of possessions, worries about status and popularity, anything that can cause harm to others or ourselves.

What can we do?

We can pray. Please don’t think that is a small thing. We do it for the world, but we do it for ourselves, too. We need to pray because that is one of the surest ways to give God’s peace a chance at penetrating our hearts.

What can we do?

Well, lamenting, crying is important. Be angry about events like this but don’t stop there – let those emotions fuel your behavior. What will you do now to be the change the world needs to see? Write letters to your congress people? Practice more random acts of kindness?  How can each of us do our small part to promote peace?

By last Tuesday, I was pretty much angry at the whole world. Not only had Las Vegas happened, but Tom Petty had died. And I still had to come up with some kind of hopeful message by the end of the week.

Fortunately, God gave that message of hope to me. Because on Tuesday afternoon I went in to meet Travis and Heather’s brand new baby, Archer. As I held him, I remembered that in spite of all the bad that can and does happen, in spite of how desperately weary I get of it, in spite of everything else, hope still breaks in. God’s goodness…and peace…and promise…is still all around, even in the darkest times.

So what can we do?  I recommend holding babies, too.

Sisters and brothers, take the time you need to mourn and lament – and then remember God is with you and find ways to contribute to the good, stand up to the darkness, don’t back down. As Tom Petty would say,

“No, I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won’t back down.”

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Betty’s Diner

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Betty’s Diner

By Carrie Newcomer

During seminary, I was a bartender for a few months in a tiny northern town bar. My mother needed some major surgery and so I decided to take a few months off from classes to live back at home and help out – although I’m not sure how much help I was. My dad and I couldn’t get along and so I spent much of that autumn smoking and reading in my makeshift office I had set up in the garage, and working at my jobs.

First, I worked as a telemarketer, which was horrible and easily the worst job I ever had. If you would like to steal someone’s spirit and their will to live quickly and efficiently, make them be a telemarketer. I was only there a few weeks when I just stopped going back.

Then, I tried to be a cook at a nursing home. I like cooking but since I am not a picky eater, I am not a picky cook.  Who cares if the toast is a little dark, the eggs a little crisp around the edges, the soup not piping hot – food is food, right? Well, turns out others care much more than I do about these little details. I quit before I could be fired.

Finally, I got the job as a bartender – I liked making and pouring the drinks. I liked talking to the regulars who came in, giving free drinks to friends and relatives who showed up – heck, if it was up to me, I would have given everyone free drinks. I liked the sense of community, the music, and how when the night was done, you cleaned up and went home and it was over. It was carefree for me, I didn’t have to figure out the books or wonder which rotten bartender was giving away all the free drinks and costing the bar big money. Luckily for the bar, I was only there a couple months before I went back to school.

While I may not have been a grade A bartender, that experience was a great one for me.  I still often say that people were much more honest with me about their lives when I was their bartender than they are with me as their pastor. People would come in after a hard day needing a place to sit and decompress or just be with friends and they knew they could do that at the bar. The bar was always open, warm, and waiting. If it wasn’t too busy, you could depend on the bartender to listen or just shoot the breeze.

It seems to me from what I know of Jesus, he would have probably much rather been a bartender than a modern-day pastor. He probably wouldn’t have cared a bit about church budgets or if the confirmation kids could recite the parts of the Small Catechism and their meanings. But I bet he would have liked being in a place where people felt welcomed at any hour, to listen to their stories and share some of his, to serve a hot meal and fill some stomachs, to warm some hearts in the process.

There’s a bar a quarter mile from our church – the last time it was up for sale I thought about how perfect it would be if our church could buy it and run it. A place to hang out, eat, listen to music and listen to each other without all the baggage that the church seems to bring with it for so many people.

The church’s baggage has never bothered me and I’ve always felt at home in a church. I grew up there and felt welcome. I see the steeple with a cross on top and it represents love and grace to me, a place I can completely be myself.

However, I know this isn’t the case for so many and when we invite people to church, we are inviting them into our experience of what church is even though they may see the church very differently.

So, I’m thinking about the middle ground between a bar and a church. How to create a space like that? We do Beer and Hymns. We have done Pub Theology. What’s possible now? How can we blend the best of what church and a bar/restaurant are? Here – in rural Minnesota. A place where people stop in after deer hunting or while out snowmobiling – come as they are and know they are welcome. Real community, real welcome – plus spiritual and physical nourishment.  Now, that is a place I would like to see…to serve…to hang out.

Betty’s Diner

Miranda works the late night counter
In a joint called Betty’s Diner
Chrome and checkered tablecloths
One steamy windowpane

She got the job that shaky fall
And after hours she’ll write till dawn
With a nod and smile she serves them all

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
When you come in from the cold

Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She’s heard it all so she don’t mind

Arthur lets his earl gray steep
Since April it’s been hard to sleep
You know they tried most everything
Yet it took her in the end

Kevin tests new saxophones
But swears he’s leaving quality control
For the Chicago scene, or New Orleans
Where they still play righteous horns

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
When you come in from the cold

Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She’s heard it all so she don’t mind

Jack studies here after work
To get past high school he’s the first
And his large hands seem just as comfortable
With a hammer or a pen

Emma leaned and kissed his cheek
And when she did his knees got weak
Miranda smiles at ’em and winks

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
When you come in from the cold

Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She’s heard it all so she don’t mind

You never know who’ll be your witness
You never know who grants forgiveness
Look to heaven or sit with us

Deidra bites her lip and frowns
She works the stop and go downtown
She’s pretty good at the crossword page
And she paints her eyes blue black

Tristan comes along sometimes
Small for his age and he’s barely five
But she loves him like a mama lion

Veda used to drink a lot
Almost lost it all before she stopped
Comes in at night with her friend Mike
Who runs the crisis line

Michael toured Saigon and back
Hair the color of smoke and ash
Their heads are bowed and hands are clasped
One more storm has passed

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
When you come in from the cold

Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She’s heard it all so she don’t mind

 

Running With the Wolves

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Running With the Wolves – Cloud Cult

The nights were so quiet there. Seven miles from one town, eight from another – our closest neighbors were cows, coyotes, and wild hogs. The Texas sun nearly melted our Minnesota bones many times over – so when I wanted to run, I ran at night. It was cooler, and I could run undisturbed along the long, thin driveway that snaked along the back of the church property – back and forth – from the church sign to the parsonage driveway. It was nearly a half mile from one end to the other and I never minded the repetition of winding back and forth beside that red brick church with its’ steeple stretching toward the sky, under the cover of the cedars and live oaks. If the moon was bright enough, I ran around the perimeter of the cemetery – round and round. Reverently so. One time around that old cemetery was nearly a mile and I ran there often – I wonder if there is still a path worn in the grass from my five years’ worth of miles?  The rock fence, the moonlight shining on the gravestones, the scent of wild honeysuckle, the Texas sky so big and the stars so bright – they must have all been made of dreams. Sometimes I felt so completely content there, enchanted with everything: the white limestone gravel, the charming balcony in the church, the stillness, the silence, warm winter days, my children so little, my congregation so beloved – I would just whisper “thank you” into the night air.

But the stillness and silence began to get deafening. I didn’t want it to be so. I wanted the enchantment to thrive, but bit by bit, day by day, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay there. I knew the Spirit, my Self, my family, my goals were pushing me elsewhere, onward. Someone else would get to be the pastor there – and even as I resigned, I knew part of me would miss it forever. Even as I knew in my bones I needed to go, I never doubted a sliver of my heart would stay right there.

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“The Escape – Running With The Wolves”
We went running with the wolves. It’s time for us to go.
Left all our clothes with the car back by the road.
We were running for a reason- for the burning in our veins.
We were running for a reason.
I just need to get away.

We’re running with the wolves. We’re screaming at the stars.
We left all we own in a hole in our backyard.
We were running for a reason, left our cubicles in little flaming piles.
We were running for a reason.
I need to feel something different for just a little while.

I’m not coming home, I’m staying with the wolves.
You can burn all my mail and disconnect the phone.
Tell Mom I’m sorry- sorry for leaving, but I’m staying where I’m at.
We’re running to find meaning.
We’re gone, and we’re never coming back.