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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

December 14, 2014

1st Reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm: Luke 1:46-55
2nd Reading: Romans 16:25-27

Last year at the our gathering of Oregon Lutherans, one of the speakers used the image of the finger play we all learned as kids: Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people. He changed it to be this: Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and send out the people. If you would have asked me when I was a kid where is God's house, I would have said it was church, but I hope if we asked the kids or any of us today, we would point out into the world, to people who are in prison or suffering from Ebola or neglected children or our neighbor in need. That is God's house, within people all around us.

When King David wondered where God's house was, he pictured a beautiful house of cedar, with grand architecture and large stones and carvings. He pictured what would eventually become the temple. He was naturally grateful for all that God had done for him: Taken him from the pasture to make him a prince, been present with him throughout his life, cut off all his enemies, and made for him a great name. God had taken him from a nobody and made him a great king. Now David wants to thank him and his gift is to make him a dwelling, a fancy house, a grand mansion. God quickly dismisses the notion and then changes the subject, turns it back to David and what God has done for David.

Mary, too, was a nobody that God lavished with grace and favor. We assume that there was something really special about Mary that would make God approach her with this assignment to bear God's only Son. There isn't anything in the reading that indicates anything special about her. In fact it may be that like King David, it was her lowliness that got her the job. Now she will be a house for God until Jesus is born and a shelter for him during his childhood.

She doesn't have any cedar to offer to build God a house. All she can do is say, “Thank you!” and stand there dumbfounded and wonder at the mystery of God coming in this unexpected way. Some have said that Mary gave her affirmation—her yes. And yet, when the reading says “servant” the word is really “slave.” Instead of calling herself God's servant, she calls herself God's slave. This shows that this isn't really about her will, but God's. This is God's action, not Mary's, to be born into this world. She does give her affirmation, but that was just icing on the cake. That she gave it was a response to what God is doing in this world, and also it was an affirmation without all the information about what this would mean for her or for her son or for any of us.

God is so active and Mary so passive. But even King David was pretty passive when it came to being chosen by God to lead. Every time he does get active, he does something stupid that gets him in trouble. What does go well for each of these chosen lowly people is that the lines of communication are kept open between them and God and a dialogue goes on in which God is present and they try to understand what God is doing and respond to it appropriately. God keeps on acting despite their imperfection and keeps the plan of love on track.

Now, after Mary has had some time to think about what's going on with her, we get today's psalm, Mary's song to Elizabeth when she arrives at her home to find that what the angel has told her is true. Elizabeth, although she is pretty old, has conceived a child. Mary is pregnant. She's found a relative willing to take her in and care for her during her pregnancy. This is just the beginning of what the angel has been saying, that nothing is impossible with God.

Nothing is impossible. It is possible that the lowliest will be chosen for the most important jobs. It is possible that God would break into human existence. It is possible that a virgin and an old lady would become pregnant. It is possible that prayers uttered year after year would finally be answered. It is possible that God's relationship with people is challenging and compassionate. It is possible that Jesus won't have a house in which to be born or a house to minister from or lay his head, but that will make his ministry even better. It is possible that God doesn't need a cedar house or any building, but must be free to move about and be available for everyone. It is possible that he would show us how to feed and heal and love and do so for us, too. It is possible that we would put God to death and inflict such suffering upon Jesus that he would die. And it is possible that he would rise to forgive us and give us new life.

God doesn't need a house. God doesn't need protection. God needs to be free and available. It turns out that the buildings we make to glorify God, say more about us than about God. They are walls that make us feel safe. They are walls that create insiders and outsiders. They are monuments to ourselves and a show of our wealth. That God does something good from them is another indication that nothing is impossible with God. I've loved seeing the downstairs transformed to accommodate the pantry. For years that closet was full of useless papers and old equipment. What fun to dig through and make it relevant, useful space that actually gives glory to God, not because it is big or fancy, but because it enables food to move through our church and out to hungry people.

God's ideal house is not big or fancy, but it is utilitarian, made to serve and welcome people in need. And furthermore, God is promising David another kind of house. “You want to build me a house, David? I'll show you a house. This will be the kind of house that really lasts for all ages.” Not like the temple which has already been destroyed when Luke's Gospel was written. This is house in the sense of family and lineage, a family of misfits that God is building, starting with David and expanding to all outsiders and aliens and gentiles. This is a house built out of love and compassion, a house that will be made sure forever because of Jesus and the life that he gives to all of us. In God's house, those in power keep their mouths shut and get out of the way and the smallest and shyest are empowered to be front and center, take the most important roles and receive the most attention. As they gain in power, they get to pass that privilege and favor on to the new lowliest ones, until all share power and God is able to work through each one and be present to each one and make each one a home for God's love.

God's ideal house is not one where people sit around and sing praises to God, the way I used to think of church. It is a heart open, a people going out to find God in unexpected places, it is in fields of sheep, it is in a barren womb, it is within the young and the old, it is in us even when we don't get it. The think about David and about Mary is that they could have been any of us, that they are us. God is taking what is humble and undeveloped and fresh and raw within all of us and doing what God does best, breaking into our world, surprising us, turning our systems of power and strength on their heads, and leaving us speechless and completely dumbfounded.

As messed up as this world is, God is active and breaking in. 150 families were fed through the pantry with a Christmas ham, homemade cookies, and many other extras to make it special and when one family lost their ham voucher, a man with compassion gave his away. There is the amazing miracle of giving and thinking of others that happens this time of year, with food and gifts for kids and meals, and kindness. A family who has been trying for a pregnancy finds out twins are on the way. A child asks to be baptized. New friendships are formed. A country has a difficult conversation about race. Someone gives up driving their car for a week, a month, a year. Under the soil, seeds wait until conditions are right to grow. Someone learns to read. Someone plays beautiful music. Someone visits a sick relative. Someone apologizes for a wrong from long ago. Someone seeks healing in a broken relationship. God is breaking in. God is being born. Love is developing and is the size of a pineapple this week, the right size to sneak in to all our Christmas preparations, but growing and bringing light and newness.

We don't always respond appropriately. Sometimes we want to build a structure to box that in and capture it for a lifetime. Sometimes we don't know what to say. But our hearts are bursting with thanks and sometimes that's all we can say. And once it soaks in that really all things are possible with God, we may find our emotions need expression either in words or a song or an action or two that helps someone, or in a changed life, oriented toward going out and finding God on the absolute margins, among the weakest, the least refined, the most lowly. May you find God active in the world around you and in your life. May you let that love wash over you and affect you. May you respond in whatever way you do, letting God make something of that imperfect response and break down the walls of the temple, our church, our homes and our hearts, until we all know that we are in God's family, and that God's house is big enough for all of us.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

December 7, 2014

1st Reading: Isaiah 40:1-11
Gospel: Mark 1:1-8

There's old news and there's good news. Here's the old news: An army takes a country by force, overtaxes it, controls it with arms, oppresses its people. That was the situation in Israel when Jesus was born. More old news: A people are dragged off to a foreign land and kept there for 200 years. That was the situation of our reading in Isaiah, the Israelites taken into slavery in Babylon. More old news: Unarmed black men are killed by white police officers and grand juries don't bring criminal charges against the officers. That's our situation in the US over the past couple of weeks. It isn't old news in that it is boring, but old news in that we've heard it before, experienced it before, and it is part of an old order and system that keeps some people in power and others powerless.

But God is promising something completely new—new life, comfort for those who have been wronged, and justice for those who have hurt others, a whole new start, a chance to heal and to have relationship, good news. But the pathway from the old news to the good news seems so long and full of potholes. It seems almost impossible to get from where we are now, with all the injustice and inequality and prejudice and fear and anger, to a place of peacemaking, and healing, of new life and the Kingdom of God.

Thankfully, it doesn't depend on us, because we are like withering flowers and blades of tender grass on a hot day. We wilt and fail. But whether the Kingdom of God, God's reign of justice and peace and love, comes and when, doesn't depend on us, thankfully. That is something guaranteed by God and dependent upon God who stands forever, reliable, and powerful.

This partly sounds like old news. God is powerful and mighty, starting a huge highway project so he can have his grand parade, ruling with might. Yet there is something unexpected and brand new. God is also gentle and tender. These verses are so beautiful, “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” There is an old news view of God, vengeful, angry, violent. Yet, here is the good news, a different view of God, powerful, yet gentle and very patient.

We are watching the old news unfold on TV and hearing it on the radio and reading about it in the newspaper and online, racial mistrust and divides in our country. People are dying. People are protesting. People are afraid of each other. How will we ever find our way from the old news of fighting and hurting each other to the good news of justice and peace?

When I was growing up the “N” word was used in my house almost every day. It was used in an often repeated joke that my dad would say, and that I still don't understand, to this day. My mom did daycare. My dad had to quit saying that word when my mom started babysitting little Andrew, who was a mixed race kid. We saw the before and after picture, the old news, the old way dad talked and acted, and we saw that wasn't the way it was supposed to be when he had to quit doing it. My parents told me they moved to Oregon so we wouldn't have to go to school with children of other races and that they wouldn't allow us to ever date someone of a different race because that person wouldn't have the same values that we did, of caring for family. They also sent me a mixed message because they said I was lucky to be born a white girl in the United States. To me this meant that I could have been born with any color skin from anywhere in the world. It meant that I could be a person of any race and I should treat others how I would want to be treated. That could be me.

It was a strange picture I got growing up: old news-racism, lack of understanding, and prejudice combined with this mixed-up good news of a different perspective, something new possible, a connection between me and all the other people of the world, and an awareness of my privilege, something I had that other people didn't have, that I shouldn't ever take for granted, and that I could use to help people with less privilege than I had, often by getting out of the way.

What do I mean by privilege? I don't get pulled over all the time by cops and when I do they let me off with a warning. No one follows me around in the store expecting me to shoplift. Nobody expects me to be carrying a gun or to be a threat of any kind. That is all because of an accident of birth, something completely out of my control—my race. That's old news, the way people are treated differently because of the color of their skin.

Also old news is the reaction that a lot of white people have when others talk about their experiences as a person of color. We often dismiss it. We often get defensive, as if the other person is asking us to fix it and take responsibility for every person of our race who has ever been prejudiced.

It is hard to listen to these painful stories. We want to take away the pain. We want to fix it. We want it not to be true. But the telling of these stories is what is going to take us from the old news to the good news. The good news is that if we can let ourselves hear these stories and internalize them, if we can recognize and honor the pain, then we will be changed and new life will spring up. Then we will speak up if we hear someone say something rude to someone else just because of race or gender or age or sexuality. Then we will stand up to bullies in our midst. Then we will question those stereotypes in our heads about other people. We will venture to make friends with people of different races. And the world will be changed because we are sick and tired of the old news and ready for the Kingdom of God to break in and transform us.

This is part of what it means that the hills be made low and the valleys lifted up. Hills and valleys are the barriers of inequality that keep some people from seeing and experiencing God's kingdom, the good things in life that we all hope for our friends and family. If someone is in a valley, they won't be able to see and hear what is going on on the mountain. If there is a hill or mountain, it can block the view of those below to able to see the goodness of God. If you've ever been to Holden Village, you may have noticed that it is perched between mountain peaks. It is my understanding that there are many days in the winter that the sun doesn't fall on Holden Village because of its placement there. In the same way, the hills and valleys, the inequalities of life keep the sun from falling on people we know and love, our friends of different races and skin colors.

We have become accustomed to dismantling the hills and valleys for the genders and in discussing and listening to stories of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. We need to open ourselves to hearing the stories of our friends and neighbors and sons-in-law and daughters-in-law and fellow church members who have experienced discrimination because of race.

When I hear those stories of prejudice and pain, I have been learning to listen and to go to that place within myself that has experienced something similar. Although I am privileged, I have been met with laughter when I have said I am a pastor. There were many who doubted that I would be able to do it, including people in my own family. We've all had times of struggle that we can tap into when someone shares their experience, either in person or even in a news story. We all know what it is like to be put into a category and be labeled and to be treated differently because of it. I think of my poor boy and the pressures put on boys to fight each other and be a man and not show their emotions. It breaks my heart to think that someday other people will try to tell him who he is and how he ought to act if he is going to be a man. Our own story of struggle, rather than making us say to another to quit whining, ought to open our heart to hear what they've been through and to vow not to let that happen anymore. We know our world isn't as it should be, isn't how God envisions it. Are we going to put up more mountains and valleys and make things harder for our brothers and sisters, or are we going to listen, let those stories affect us, and do something about it so that our world is a little bit better for all of us.

The chasms between people seem so huge—how can we ever make peace between us? God is building a road. He says, “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill made low, and uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” “Prepare the way of the Lord.” This is the road that Jesus will use to march straight into human life, into our lives. It will become the road of Joseph and Mary on the way to Bethlehem, the birth canal that Jesus passes through as he is born, the road that he walks as he carries his cross. It is a road that links two places together that seem completely divided—a road between races and genders and ages and sexualities—it is the road of love and we're always invited on it to love and be loved as God loves.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

November 30, 2014

Gospel: Mark 13:24-37
1st Reading: Isaiah 64:1-9
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

I was truly thinking of tossing the readings for today, on this day of celebration, the baptism of two young children and two adults and the day we receive two other new members. Family and friends in attendance—we want to make a good impression. “All our deeds are like a filthy cloth,”--it just doesn't have the happy Christian feeling that we all want to impress on everyone today, guest and longtime member alike. But being Christian is about telling the truth and these readings tell the truth, not just about the difficulties in life, but also about the joy of the fellowship of God's Son, Jesus Christ. These readings don't gloss over the challenges that life brings, but also celebrate that we are all God's people.

The reading from Isaiah doesn't say that we are all filthy rags—it says our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth and we have become like one who is unclean. However the reading also affirms that we are all God's children made good from the very beginning. “We are all the work of your hand.” And “God works for those who wait for him.” God made us all good and sees us as good.

But let's be real—this world is rough and we are part of it. I started reading an article about how people aren't completely domesticated. Dogs started to be domesticated much earlier than cats, and that's why your dog wants to please you and your cat couldn't care less. People have not always been civilized. We haven't always lived together in groups in which we had rules to order us and help us take care of each other. Sometimes our animal nature makes us more cat-like than dog-like, less caring of what other people think, less friendly, less able to follow directions, more likely to go off and do what we want to without a thought for anyone else. In other words we get off track. God made us and loves us and still loves us when we screw up, but we do screw up and this world leads us astray and teaches us bad manners. And when we do good, too often it is only to get what we want, so that even our motivations are impure and our righteous acts can be filthy rags, full of holes and dirt.

Thinking of Kasen and Kamryn and all the kids in the congregation, we don't want our children to know how difficult life can be, or at least we want to tell them in an age-appropriate way, a little at a time. We warn them of stranger danger and help them understand what to do if they get lost. We explain, in simplified terms, news stories they overhear or ask about, that reveal how people are hurting and hungry. We try to help them respond with compassion. We praise their good behavior and explain how their naughty behavior makes mommy cry. But we don't want them to live their lives in fear of us or God or life. Right now it is all about curiosity and exploration and taking in information and learning and celebrating who they are and who God made them to be.

These references to God coming back and the stars falling and being ready can invoke a feeling of fear, of anxiety. But in this waiting of Advent, are we waiting for someone or something that we fear, or are we waiting for something good to come into our midst? When all the smoke clears, we find ourselves looking in a manger at a little newborn baby. If you've had a newborn baby, you know the element of fear that can come into play—the fear of being responsible for something so helpless, the pure vulnerability of a human being at the beginning of life and through childhood and all the way through life for that matter, the fear of a changed life and not knowing what that will mean.

But usually the joy and hope and even the exhaustion overcomes that fear, and you find a way to do what seems impossible, raise a child, with the help of many many other people. And you aren't afraid that this baby will hurt you. It is a helpless child, full of peace in the quiet moments and full of need at other moments. We look in the manger, and we have nothing to fear from God who would come this way, the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This Advent we find ourselves preparing—are we preparing for something we fear? We've got every reason to be anxious. This congregation has been through all kinds of anxiety-provoking situations over the years, from difficulties paying the bills, to expensive repairs being needed on the building, to pastoral leadership making poor decisions, to falling numbers of members and so on. However, because of these troubles, you all know what is most important and how reliable and faithful God is. Because no matter what the trouble, you've never been alone. God has been in your midst, reminding you why your here and keeping you faithful and focussed and awake and continuing to call you into the fellowship of Jesus Christ.

One of the anxieties this congregation has faced has been the absence of children—a problem which we do not have today, and haven't had for the last three months. It was almost a year ago that the Sandness family started coming here. I think it was last summer, I asked Jamie, wouldn't they rather go to a church that has more kids. I didn't want to gloss over the truth—I wasn't saying anything she wasn't aware of. I had laid aside my anxiety about our aging congregation and decided that if God was going to keep giving us seniors, then it was seniors we would minister to. I think many others had let it go, as well. And Jamie in her non-anxious way said something to this effect, “No. We want to be here and we're planning to stay. When the next family comes along they will see another young family here and be more inclined to stay.” And now with the help of some of the other young families that had been on the sidelines and another few who have recently started coming, something new is happening here.

This is about hope in action. Here is a family that had let go of future outcomes, and was content with how things were going. Yet they also had a vision of what could be—not only their own vision of their kids mixing with other kids, but a vision for other families that might come and what they might experience when they met another young family. And they actively worked to make it happen. They could have stayed home and waited until those other families came. Instead they were faithful and let these children teach the congregation how to expand our welcome for little people, by learning their names, by coming to expect their noises, by reaching down for a little hand at the sharing of the peace, and so forth.

It is a healthy balance of letting go and letting what happens happen, of hope and vision, and of working toward that vision. The readings are all about letting go—letting go of expectation of what will happen when, and letting go of control—you are our potter and we are your clay. There are some things we don't know and can't know, so we let go of that. We don't need to know. But not knowing, doesn't mean that we don't do anything. “Keep awake” the Gospel says. Be prepared. Keep watch. Watch for what? Are we watching for some awful outcome, like the collapse of society and and escalation of violence or for our church to peter away? When we look for that, do we bring about a self-fulfilling prophecy? Or do we look for signs of life, for Jesus Christ in our guests and in the stranger and in all those unexpected places? And when we set ourselves up to see that, don't we treat each other with greater respect and create a better church and neighborhood and world?

You know this sudden appearance of families and younger people is not our savior. They will not make or break our church. Some will come and some will go. These children will grow up into adults—and most likely into elderly people. They will struggle to stay awake and to let go of what they can't control and not to be too anxious. But whether they are 3 or 5 or 35 or 60 or 80, God is saying to them and to us, “You are all my people, the work of my hand.” It isn't about who we used to be or who we will be, but the celebration of who we are right now, God's own precious children. And most of all, it is a celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ, who reminded us that it is all out of our hands, to let go of what we can't control. But also that doesn't mean we sit back and do nothing. In faithfulness, we move forward in hope, knowing that the fulfillment of all our hopes is about to be born in our midst, has already been born, and given his life to show us how best to live, putting others before ourselves, and making this world more loving and just.

What a gift for this Savior to be born among us. We think we are going to pass on our values to another generation, but children pass their values on to us of creativity and spontaneity and living in the moment and celebrating life. Let us serve these little ones and strangers in our midst, and by doing so serve Jesus and let them change us to more reflect the love of God.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

November 9, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
1st Reading: Amos 5:18-24
2nd Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Are you one of those people who likes to be prepared, who is always ready well ahead of time and has everything organized? Or are you one of those people who always puts everything off until the last minute? Or maybe you fall somewhere in between. I remember being so frustrated with my fellow seminarians who would be up until 2 or 3 in the morning the night before a test studying, or finishing a paper because they put it off. That just seemed ridiculous to me. I almost always started papers well ahead of time and nowadays I always have a draft of my sermon on Thursday, or I can't enjoy my day off. I know several pastors who's sermons are bouncing around in their head all week. Then they come in early Sunday morning and put it all down on paper. I tweak mine on Sunday morning, but you're not going to see me sitting down to a blank page that day and starting then. That would make me anxious.

I could congratulate myself for being wise and put others down for being foolish, but maybe it is more that I am nervous and they are more relaxed. Or it could be that we each have our own style and process that works for us, so we are all wise. And even when I am well prepared, sometimes things happen to ruin all my preparations, and I have to think on my feet or scramble to get something together.

For the early Christians, they were expecting Jesus' return any day. They had been told that some of them would live to see it happen. Now, 40 or so years had passed and people were starting to die and others were getting anxious and others were forgetting about Jesus' teachings and going back to their old ways. They weren't acting like wise people prepared for Jesus' return. So Matthew tells this parable about the wise and foolish bridesmaids and being prepared.

Being prepared for what? Is this ultimate salvation that these bridesmaids are getting in on or missing out on? What are these early Christians preparing for? What are they gaining or losing by being prepared or not? I have a hard time thinking of the bridegroom as Jesus, locking the foolish, wedding-crashing, latecomers out. We attend more than one wedding in a lifetime. I tend to think this is more about missing celebrating with Jesus. Sometimes we are unprepared to meet Jesus and go to his party. That doesn't mean we'll be unprepared for the next time he appears among us. And it certainly doesn't mean that he's locking all us foolish ones out of heaven. Hopefully we'll learn from our mistakes and either bring more oil or share our lamps or not let ourselves be distracted from the party to go off and get oil.

What does the oil represent? Is it faith? Is it a changed life? Does it matter? What do we need to have a lot of, in order to wait? I'm not sure we know. But I will say, if this is about Jesus coming again, and not having enough of something stored up to last until he did come again, since we're still waiting 2000 years later, it is hard to imagine having enough oil or food or anything to last that long. Not knowing how long of a wait we're talking about, how can anyone be completely prepared?
Now who here is really wise or foolish? Can you call someone wise who won't share her lamp with her sister? Can you call someone wise who sends her sister away to go get more oil, knowing that the Bridegroom could be coming at any moment? Can you call someone foolish for bringing enough but not packing extra? Can you call someone foolish for allowing herself to be shamed and distracted and convinced to leave the vicinity of the party to go off on this errand?--ok, maybe we can say yes to that one. The question for us is this, if we are prepared, are we willing to help others who might have been a little more foolish and share what we have, either the oil or the light? If we feel unprepared, are we willing to wait it out without our light, knowing that the light of the world is coming to illumine our way? Or might we be willing to ask for help, for someone to share their light with us so we don't have to wait in the dark? Can we keep a focus on our Savior Jesus, however he appears to us—as a groom, as a child, as a person with ebola, as a person who is hungry or filthy or weak or undocumented? Will we stick with keeping our watch, however prepared or unprepared we are? Or will we be distracted telling our unprepared sisters and brothers to go jump in a lake, shaming them and sending them on an unnecessary errand? Will we be distracted by those who would shame us, telling us we didn't bring enough and go off to find it instead of staying to find that very thing we are there for, the presence and joy of Christ?

Jesus Christ came to us, the most unprepared of all. He came as a baby. He had no language, no clothes, no defenses, no knowledge. He grew up with no royal title, no crown or throne, no status. As an adult, he had no place to lay his head, no armed forces to command, went long periods without food, was followed by foolish disciples and women no one had a kind word about and finally surrendered all that he had, even his very safety and his body over to death, no dignity, no privacy, no pardon, finally no breath. So completely unprepared. Yet, he had what mattered most—he knew who he was in God's eyes, and he lived and understood his calling to love others and to serve those who are rejected and hated.

In God's eyes, all our preparations must seem silly. We must seem quite foolish, whether we are under-prepared or over-prepared. And notice all the bridesmaids fell asleep. We all get tired. Yet, we are all invited to the party. We are all invited to be near Jesus. We all get another chance to try again and learn to share and not be distracted. We are children of God and guests at the wedding feast, and so are those around us, prepared or not. We get to extend the invitation by our words and actions so that others know they are invited and we are especially encouraged to share our light, or Christ's light, so that we can all enjoy the party, together.
So what is it that distracts us today from seeing Jesus in our midst? Funny to go back to the Old Testament reading this morning. Some things never change. The real point is seeing “justice roll down like waters and righteousness, or goodness like an ever-flowing stream.” But we get distracted by our solemn assemblies, and our noisy songs. We think that our worship is the place Jesus mostly is, and when we worship, we always hope that it isn't the actual hymns or musical instruments, or colors of the day, or pews or the pastor preaching from the pulpit or down in front. Actually, worship should strengthen us to meet Jesus in our everyday lives. It should renew us so that we use our time and energy to share all we have and bring justice to those who never get a fair shake.

I probably spend too much time on Facebook, but I had my latest chuckle on the ELCA Clergy page when one pastor suggested switching church buildings with another congregation for a season to get us out of the worship we all get caught up in, of our own spaces and buildings. I just love thinking like this, about the chaos, but not just all the confusion, but of meeting Christ there and what we would see about ourselves and how we get distracted by things that don't matter and miss Christ standing right in our midst. I love it, in theory. I would certainly be as discombobulated as the rest of you and have difficulty producing sermons and probably drive to the wrong place half the time and never know where such and such is kept. We don't actually have to go through the exercise to start to see a picture of ourselves among these wise and foolish bridesmaids. We are completely foolish and distracted and unprepared, yet Jesus comes to us anyway, gives us his light, keeps us from burning out, feeds us, and parties with us forever more. And in turn we get to be foolish like Jesus, completely unprepared from the world's standpoint, living simply, hanging out with all kinds of rough characters and misfits, welcoming, taking risks, being open to God's leading, and loving, so that more people might know the presence of God.

Maybe the oil is love. Left to our own foolishness, if the abundance and sharing of life is based on who deserves it or who didn't offend us, it runs out. But based in God's own generosity, it never runs out, and so we keep our lamps of love lit, so that others can see what we see, Jesus present with us and celebrating with us.

November 23, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
1st Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
2nd Reading: Epesians 1:15-23

“I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy.” This reminds me of the Magnificat, the part of the Bible where the Virgin Mary has just learned that she will carry the Son of God and she sings a song that we sing at Holden Evening Prayer, “You have filled the hungry with wondrous things and left the wealthy no part.”

When I was growing up, I would never sing this part because I was in the poorest family in my congregation, and I couldn't sing this about the wealthier people in my congregation. They were so kind to me. They gave me their hand-me-downs, gave me employment babysitting and picking blueberries. They served with me on committees. They were my Sunday School teachers and Confirmation Instructors. They were my fellow Christians and I loved them and they loved me.

Now I have stepped out of poverty. I find myself in a place of privilege. I can pay my bills without worrying where the money will come from. I have disposable income.

So who am I, in this story? I have been both the poor, and the wealthy. I have been hungry and fed. At times in our lives we have been all of these things. Some have said that these readings aren't about us. They are about who Jesus is. And on Christ the King Sunday it is a good idea to stop thinking of ourselves all the time and really celebrate Christ Jesus.

So what does this reading say about Jesus? As king, where is his throne? Where is his Kingdom and what is it like? Who is this King that we celebrate on Christ the King day and who we've even named our church after?

For a long time, God was the only ruler the Israelites knew. God led them out of Egypt and set them up in a new land, gave them laws to guide them, and gave them judges to help resolve disputes. But the people really wanted a king, like all the other nations around them. They begged for one. God told them they would regret it, that a king would never rule with the compassion and justice of God. The king would get wrapped up in getting more riches and impressing people. No matter how good the king, he would get off track and lose sight of the ideals and values of God. But the people still insisted. If you read the books of Kings in the Old Testament, you've got about 6 good kings total in a list of about 40 between the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. In other words, having a king was a failure. The kingdom was divided into two. Kings kept taking the throne by coup. They didn't take care of their widows and orphans. They kept going back to worshiping Baal. If one king got the nation back in order, the next ruined all his good work. The kings were unreliable, and even those who were pretty faithful usually lost their way and made huge mistakes that hurt people and dishonored God.

Now enter, Christ the King. God is saying, “Human kings didn't work out very well. You want a ruler, a king. I will come in person and be your king.” Put aside everything you've ever thought about a king, because God is going to show us how it is done. This is a king who isn't concerned with amassing power, or conquering other lands, or being big and powerful the way we think of power. This is a king who gives power away and when necessary takes it away from those who are hoarding it, to pass it around.

To Christ the King, power is not something that you can run out of or is scarce. Jesus knows that power is something that can be shared between us and that can grow and increase as people are empowered. The other kings thought of land and money as power. Those things are finite. They are meaningless because they can be taken away. They aren't powerful at all.

Jesus thought of as power in a completely different way. To him it was powerful to share so that everyone had enough and could contribute. Sharing food and drink, sharing clothing, sharing stories, sharing our time. What Jesus thought of as powerful were relationships of care and love in which the poor and hungry and imprisoned were ministered to and valued as part of the whole, where everyone's well-being was considered and tended to. What Jesus thought of as powerful was thinking the best about another person and letting God be the judge, so that there weren't barriers or prejudices that keep us from helping people in need. When we see someone suffering, we want to tell ourselves that couldn't happen to me. We make up some story in our minds about how they deserve their fate of being lost or hurting—whether we blame a bad decision or drug abuse or whether a person got an education or not. And in the same breath, we worship ourselves and our actions and give ourselves credit for many accidents of life that give us wealth and stability.

When we are poor, we also believe in the stories we tell ourselves that someone must have done something to deserve that wealth, that opulent house, all those amazing vacations, all those nice clothes. That's the myth in our society—that anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, that if we're poor we deserve it and if we are rich we deserve it. These stories we tell ourselves keep us from reaching across to our neighbor who is different from us and getting to know them, to find out the real story and from building power between us that grows.

Jesus is turning that myth on its head. The creator of the universe deserved to have all the comforts and luxuries of life. Instead he had a pile of hay to be born in, fled for his life, had no possessions, was misunderstood by his family, didn't even have competent followers, and was executed as a young man in the prime of his life for standing up to this myth and spending time with the most rejected people of his time. Christ the King is a different kind of king, valuing the poor, redistributing resources, and subjecting the rich to judgment.

A congregation can be a beautiful place where people come together of all different socio-economic backgrounds and situations. It was in my home congregation and it is here. Where else do different kinds of people gather and make decisions together and build relationships and work and worship side by side? Christ has brought rich and poor together to destroy these myths we've been living with and replace them with real relationships, the stuff that really matters and builds power between people for good in the world.

I see before me, a lot of people who are wealthy. I also see people who struggle with finances. Some in this congregation are formerly homeless. Some are just squeaking by and some I would describe living in mansions. Some are rich in money, some rich in health, some rich in family relationships, some rich in friendship. Some are poor in health, some poor in possessions, some poor in self-esteem, some have experienced great losses in their lives, most have had their share of struggles, rich or poor. I would say to all, Jesus is with you. Jesus is the kind of King whose throne is in the midst of struggles and difficulties. And I would say, value one another and get to know one another. You are each a gift and you each have pieces of a puzzle can help other people, here and in the wider world, meet a need or find a connection. God has given us one another as a gift, so open this gift, invite one another to form deeper relationships, share your hopes and dreams and struggles and joys and frustrations. This will build power, it will build compassion, it will make this church stronger and richer in the ways that matter most and that will last.

Jesus is the kind of King who would lose it all to show us what power and glory are really about. I am reminded of the way they stripped Jesus of his clothes at his arrest in Jerusalem—how he stood naked. I am reminded of how he was charged with a crime and held as a criminal in prison. I a reminded of Jesus' words on the cross, “I thirst.” I am reminded of how Peter denied him and no one came to his aid. He was hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, a stranger, naked, and sick. He's been there. What a comfort for us when we are there to know that we are not alone. And he is there. Whenever we meet someone in any of these difficult situations, we remember Jesus and how he did not deserve it and how whatever life choices people have made, no one deserves to suffer like this. Human beings ought to be able to eat and drink, to be clothed, to be visited and cared for and to receive justice. We think of food and water and clothing and medicine as limited resources, but how many of us couldn't afford to feed one more person, or is in danger of running out of clothes with a dozen pairs of shoes and four or five coats in the closet. We aren't running out of anything! There is plenty to go around if we would let Christ be our King and remind us of the plenty we have been given. Because of Christ our King, we will never run out of the things that are most important, the things that grow by giving them away: compassion, relationship, sharing, and love.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

October 19, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22
1st Reading: Isaiah 45:1-7
2nd Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

In these days of email, it is pretty fun to get a real letter in the snail mail, once in a while. My grandma writes actual letters and so I do my best to answer her by letter, too. Because of this, I still buy stamps. I remember being a little girl and licking the stamps for my mom that she placed on the bills. For a short while I collected stamps. I remember looking at the images on the stamps, and wondering about them. I remember looking at all the colors, all the different subject matter from plants and flowers, to hearts, to art work, to celebrating different holidays, to actors and actresses, and finally images of presidents and important people.

It used to be that you had to be dead to be depicted on a postage stamp, but that rule changed in 2011, maybe because the Postal Service is so much in debt and trying to make up its huge deficit. It was around that time that I started seeing advertised at the Post Office that you could buy a computer program to put the picture of your choice on a postage stamp. The suggestion was that you might like to have a picture of your grandchild on a postage stamp.

The idea was to sell what people wanted, the image that an individual would find appealing, and who would know better than that same individual? Well Caesar had the chance to put the image of whoever he wanted on the coins of ancient Rome, and I doubt there was much of a question that it would be Caesar, himself. He had already declared himself a god. He already pushed his kingdom and rule on all kinds of people. He already pushed his laws and taxes on them. He wanted absolute rule, absolute obedience, absolute power. He may have once had some lofty ideas about making life better for people, but he was a dictator, removed from the everyday life of people. It ended up that his rule benefitted him more than anyone, and those close to him next, and the Jewish people very little, if at all.

In other words, Caesar did show partiality. He treated people differently depending on what they could do for him. He expected everyone to treat him best of all, because of what he could do for them or out of fear because of what he could do to them. And in this context, the Pharisees ask Jesus whether people should pay taxes or not, to try to trap him. First they try to flatter him by saying that he shows no partiality. To him that is a compliment. To them that is an insult. Basically, they are saying he has no taste, no common sense about who it is good to hang out with and share with and who it isn't.

If Jesus says you should pay taxes, the Jewish people will be upset, because they are taxed to the max by the Romans and they get very little in return. If he says you shouldn't, they will tell Caesar and Jesus will be labled a traitor and arrested. Jesus directs them to the image on the coin. There is Caesar's image on it. Give to him what is his.

What is Caesar's in this case? The idea is whatever he stamps his image on belongs to him. He thinks whatever he imposes his values upon, his rule upon, his image upon, become his. The Jewish people were trying to keep their traditions and values, to worship God and make decisions for their own people. Who did they belong to now? God or Caesar? They were seeing Caesar's image stamped all over the place. They were finding it in their pockets and purses. They were seeing the impact on their lives--oppression. And those in power, like the Pharisees, were using this rule to benefit themselves. The tax collectors were collecting more than the tax to line their own pockets. The Pharisees were using the Romans to get rid of people like Jesus who empowered the poor. What is Caesar's? Taxes, oppression, partiality, favoritism, and take, take, take--selfishness.

What was God's, then? God is all give, give, give--selflessness. God made everything on this earth and made it good, to benefit everyone and to give life to all. God had made every tree and plant, every animal, every element such as the gold which formed the coin. Finally, as we know from the Creation stories, God created humankind in the image and likeness of God. Show me the coin—who's image is on it? Ceasar's. Show me the human-who's image is on him? God's image. That's why Jesus shows no partiality. Whomever he encounters, he sees the image and likeness of God.

We are agreed that we also must not treat others with partiality. But what about the image of God we carry within each of us? It means a certain responsibility to carry God's values within us. We all look so different from each other, so what is it about God's image that we hold in common? I think it is the heart of God, the values of God, the focus of God on life-giving ways. And we take that image wherever we go. It isn't just something we wear or embody at church. Yes, we may dress up a bit, shave, put on a clean outfit, to come here. We also try to put on a good attitude and a friendly smile, even if we aren't feeling that social. But God's image is stamped on us every other day of the week, as well. We carry God's image, God's values to work with us. We carry it with us to the store, to the ballot box, to the bank, when we drive our cars, when we take out the trash, when we fill out our estimate of giving card, when we volunteer our time, when we forgive, when we show no favoritism. Jesus' values led him to give his life that we might have life, to disregard his own welfare for the sake of others. We give thanks that he made new life possible for us, that he made that connection between God and humankind, between heaven and earth so clear and so available to us who have done nothing to deserve a place at God's table of grace. Yet, here we are, all valued, all invited, all chosen by God.

Today we estimate our giving for the coming year in a way that incorporates God's values. Our estimates help the congregation create a budget, so we aren't guessing. It helps you set an intentional goal, with prayer, to use this gift from God, money in a way that supports God's values. It also helps separate you from your money, which can so easily become an idol, no matter who's image it has on it.

It used to be that the offering was taken, the first fruits from the field, the best of the flock, and it was burned. Many a pastor has fantasized about taking the offering, putting it on the altar, and setting it on fire. The reaction would be priceless. Nowadays, very little of what ends up in the plate is paper money anymore. Most of it is checks, so it wouldn't be so effective. But the thought of destroying the money, in theory, is appealing. It means the giver truly has to let go and says, “This isn't mine anymore.” Like the prayer says, “We release what has been given to us.” Then no more could one's offering be held over the church's head. No one could say, “Do it my way or I will withhold my tithe.” No one could say, “We can't offend this or that important/rich person in the congregation or they will stop giving.” Destroying the money destroys the power it can have over us, the partiality we might have because of it.

However, if the money is destroyed, it can't be used to do the work that supports God's values of giving life impartially and supporting all in need. Alas, there will be no fire in the offering plate today. We work together to pass a budget that we believe supports God's values. Our budget tithes our offerings to the larger church to pay some administration costs that help us stay connected to other Lutherans and from time to time get support for calling a new pastor or gathering resources to write a sabbatical policy, for instance. Much of what goes to the larger church goes to fight disease and respond to disasters. Furthermore, our budget supports a food pantry that feeds thousands of hungry people in our neighborhood and creates partnerships between our congregations. Our budget pays the staff to carry out the work we see as important.

And our budget pays the pastor--me. This can be an awkward subject and yet, I know, I have a job, a livelihood, insurance and retirement because of your generous offerings. This is the way I see it. You pay me to work on behalf of the poor. I visit the sick and hospitalized and lonely. I make my way around the pantry, praying with clients, listening to them and loving them. I work on issues like immigrant rights and the health of this planet that God made and diversity training for youth. I encourage you to get involved, too. You also have your own areas of interest and focus for community service and your own connections to bring life to those who are struggling.

Maybe a grandchild is the perfect image to have on a postage stamp, just the person to venerate and honor, because of what that represents. For that grandchild, we want to create a world more just, more life-giving, more clean, more beautiful, more peaceful. We can see in that child both our own image and likeness, the face that carries our genetic code, and the face of God, so wonderous and beautiful and full of possibility. That little person is so powerless, and yet with that little voice holds such sway. That little person has no ill will toward anyone, and truly shows no partiality. That little person is truly innocent, knowing nothing of politics and money, but only about forming relationships and being open to new learning, moldable to God's sculpting hands. The important thing to remember is that we are also grandchildren of someone and they once saw in us what we see in them. And I have to think that God still sees that in us. So much possibility. So much good. So many of God's most important values. I have to think that our image can be found on God's postage stamps, God's love letters to us reminding us what is most important. Surely God's image is on our hearts, making us ready to love and give life and share and empower one another and be kind and work for the poor and vote and to give to God what is God's, which is really everything.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October 5, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46
1st Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7

Imagine you find an abandoned cat or dog, scared, hungry, injured, and neglected. You spend all your money getting it healthy, making a good space in your house for this pet, fencing the yard, getting a microchip, acclimating the pet to the other animals in the house, providing a nice cozy bed and plenty of food. You put in time getting to know your new pet, getting it used to you and the new space.

Just imagine your disappointment when the pet not only destroys property, but bites the other animals and you, continually runs away, and attacks your children and grandchildren.

Now, your heart is heavy because you’ve put all this investment into this pet, hoping that it could recover and lead a happy, healthy life in harmony with other creatures around it. But now you have no choice but to put it down.

We know that when an animal is like this, something has happened in the past that makes them this way. Maybe they were abused or suffered so terribly they can never recover. But when God has set everything up for us to live together in harmony, to have everything we need, to be comfortable and happy, and instead we get aggressive and selfish and destroy ourselves, our environment, and other lives around us, that is a choice we’ve made. In the readings for today, we can infer that God gets mad, but I think just as much, God gets sad and we all get sad and wonder where is the hope in this world if people are not willing to be tamed and live the way God intended, a life-giving way for everyone.

I suppose first we have to stop and admit what we’ve done. Are we really so bad as a wild animal or a trampled vineyard? We try to do right, live like other people, and protect ourselves. We go to church most Sundays and even if we don’t, we believe in God. We give some of our income to charity to help other people. We volunteer. We let people go in front of us at the grocery store. We’re kind to animals.

We probably didn’t set out to be wild grapes, but that’s how it has ended up. We are so isolated and removed from each other we don’t even know how our choices affect those around us. We are so comfortable behind the closed doors of our homes, we don’t even know the neighbors right next door are suffering. We tend to think of our home, money, and yard as ours and do with it what we wish, forgetting that everything we do affects other people, and that these are gifts from God that actually belong to God, not to us. We are just borrowing them for a little while.

We forget that our land once belonged to someone else and that at one time it belonged to all God’s creatures in the area. We forget that someone after us will use it and that the things we do to it will affect future generations.

We think of our money as our own, that we earned it and should be able to use it as we like. We spend it on so many frivolous things. Some of these are even for our pets. In this country we spend $61 billion a year on our pets. We spend about 7 billion on Halloween. Yes, those things make us happy. They keep our economy going. But thinking of hungry children, of single parents who can’t find work, of elder neglect, and people who can’t afford medical care, might make us consider what God’s priorities might be over our own.

I don’t think God’s given up on us yet. We can see that our way of life is unsustainable and that it is destroying this earth, using up resources, and polluting our air and water and soil. We are starting to experience the consequences of our actions. God is still saying, there is another way, a way for life to flourish for all, for everyone to have enough, and for us all to live together peacefully, for our planet to thrive. But we have to be ready and willing to change. God is saying when all these changes happen in our world that wake us up to what we’re doing, God’s is offering us another way. We will have to let go of the life we’ve known and embrace something new, something we can’t anticipate exactly, how it will all work. But we’ll have our strong faith and the stories of death and resurrection, of facing reality and making a change, and receive strength that it can be done. We’ll have the support of our community to make the changes necessary. We won’t be alone. And we will live again. We’ll find a new way of life in which we will bear the fruit of the Kingdom—new life, loving God, loving our neighbor, loving God’s good creation, behaving in loving and balanced ways. God says, why not start making these changes now, so that the destruction that is coming won’t be so disastrous?

We do the easy things. We change our light bulbs for energy efficient ones. We recycle. We turn out the lights in rooms we aren’t using. We do the things that are culturally acceptable and popular. God says, the Kingdom of God is not culturally acceptable. This is needs to be a deeper change that is risky. It makes you look foolish to your friends and family and neighbors. People will make fun of you. They will talk behind your back. But it is the way that eventually leads to more life for everyone and it is God’s way, it is the way for us to survive and thrive on this earth. It will be worth looking like a fool.

Jesus came to show us how to really live. He was kind toward those everyone rejected. He put other people first and their welfare. He emptied himself of everything and still had something to give other people. He taught us to share when we have next to nothing. He taught us to live without things that are unnecessary. He taught us to give everything away. He taught us to have a thick skin about what other people think. He taught us to look out for the little guy and even for the plants and animals. These are the lessons of healing for our community that Jesus teaches us. And he taught us to die, to let go, to be transformed, to give ourselves into God’s hands—to trust.

Because after death comes resurrection, new life, new relationship, God’s Kingdom in our midst. I challenge you this month to start a new habit, to do something a little harder to bring in God’s Kingdom. For every dollar you spend on your pet, give another dollar to the Pongo fund to give pet food to those who can’t otherwise afford to fee their pets, or give a bag of dog or cat food to a shut-in neighbor with pets. For every dollar you spend on Halloween, give a dollar to Lutheran World Relief to fight Ebola in Africa. For every dollar spent at Starbucks, give a dollar to Backpack Buddies. For every hour spent watching TV, spend an hour volunteering for the pantry or a local shelter or reading to kids at a school.

We have been given something wonderful and amazing, this beautiful world and many riches. It is not for us to use as we see fit. It is not ours. We can use it the way we want to, but it will be our destruction. Or we can let God tame us and show us new life and we will drink of the wine this land produces and share in its riches. We have a responsibility to the one who has invested so much in us, to God. And we have a responsibility to this earth that has provided such a wonderful life for us, to care for it that many future generations will be able to enjoy what we’ve enjoyed and know the blessings of God’s good creation.

September 28, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 21:23-32
1st Reading: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
2nd Reading: Philippians 2:1-13

I enjoy watching the Louie CK show. He is a comedian for which no subject is off limits, so don’t take my taste as a recommendation. He is raising two young daughters, though, and his parenting can be so right on sometimes. We recently saw an episode in which Louie is preparing smoothies for his kids. He has an extra slice of mango left over and he offers it to his oldest daughter. The younger daughter is fit to be tied.

"She got a mango popsicle and I didn't," she whines.

"That's right," he says, and continues cooking. "Sometimes she gets things you don't and sometimes, it goes the other way. That's just how life works."

"But daddy," she pleads, "it's not fair!"

"Who said anything about fair?" he asks. "You were just fine without it until she got it. What's the problem?"

"It's just not fair," she insisted. "If she gets one, I should get one too."
"Look," he says, getting right down on her level, "the only time you need to worry about what's your neighbor's bowl is if you're checking to make sure they have enough." then he turns back to the stove and continues cooking. His younger daughter is pretty ticked and walks off in a huff.

I love this scene, because it is not only for kids but for all of us. We’ve all heard kids freak out about what is fair and what isn’t. We all have our own sense of justice about what is fair and what isn’t. But when we say, “It’s not fair!” it is never the case that we got something more than what our neighbor got, is it? It is only when they got what we don’t have that we complain about fairness, like Louie’s daughter.

It is easy to dismiss kids’ complaints and their lack of understanding, but what about our own sense of justice. Our sense of justice and fairness is challenged when someone goes free who committed a crime, when someone who has taken advantage of other people has great wealth, when people enjoy pleasures and luxury that we don’t have, and occasionally when good people experience many hardships in a row.

In the Old Testament reading today, the Israelites complain that it isn’t fair that people’s children don’t suffer for their parent’s mistakes. They don’t think it is fair that God should give people a second chance to turn and live, mend their lives, make a change. They don’t think it is fair that God should care for all the other people of the earth and all the creatures, as God does the Israelites, that their welfare is tied to each other. And they don’t think it is fair that they should have to suffer consequences for what they do—aren’t they supposed to be special?!

In the New Testament reading, we are reminded that if we lived in a fair world, Jesus would not have been treated the way he was and had to give his life so that everyone could have abundant life. Instead, he did what was entirely not fair, and emptied himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For him it wasn’t about what was fair, but it was about what was right and that was to get everyone into right relationship with God and to be an example of what it means to let go of what is fair to benefit one another and people who need it most.

I think emptiness is what we are most afraid of when we exclaim, “That’s not fair.” I remember being a little girl and comparing what my sister got with what I got. I wanted to make sure I had more ice cream, soda pop, candy than she did. It was a measure in my mind of what I meant to my parents, what I deserved, and how special I was. And I was afraid of what it would mean to take second or third position, to find myself empty of my privileges as the oldest daughter. Who would I be then, if I was first, if I didn’t get the most, if I wasn’t most important in my parents’ eyes? If I lost that status, I didn’t know who I would be. I would be empty, in my estimation.

My cousin was a year older than me and we visited them often. He didn’t treat me very nice for a few years. I got to feel what it was like to be my sister, the way I treated her. He emptied me of my privileged role and I learned to be more compassionate.

We’re all going to be empty of power at some point in our lives. We are going to experience powerlessness. Jesus tells us that isn’t the end of the world. When we are empty of power, we are available to be filled. God will give us a new direction, a new heart, new eyes, a new spirit and we will be better off than we were before.

Here are a few stories of emptiness, of loss of power. The first I’ve heard time and time again. A woman is in an unhappy marriage. She finds herself attracted women. She tries everything to build up her marriage, to no avail. Her church rejects her. She wonders where God is in all this. She’s afraid that if she comes out of the closet, she will lose her family and friends.

Here’s another story: A couple recognizes their health is declining. They can’t do all the things they used to—care for a house and a yard, drive everywhere they want to go, and so on. They move into Independent Living. They have left friends, neighborhood, yard, possessions, hobbies, and more. Who are they now? They are empty of all that, plus now their kids are making many decisions for them. They have given up power. They feel depressed and powerless.

And another: A child comes into this world, healthy and happy. Nevertheless, a trusted friend shakes the child and he suffers brain damage. His parents are lost. The life they pictured for their little baby and themselves is forever altered. They don’t know what to do or where to turn. They feel powerless, empty of power.

Where is God when we feel empty? God knows what it is like to feel empty and powerless, is with us when we are in a place of fear and depression, and God has promised to eventually fill us again.

The woman finds other people who have been through the same thing she is going through. She finds God’s acceptance and love. She begins to accept herself. An older couple is able to share their frustration and pain with others who have been through the same thing. They feel encouraged that they aren’t the only ones who have felt this way. They find new activities to fill their days and make new friends and soon they are settled in their new living situation. A parent connects with other parents who have children who have been shaken. She finds that she sees so much that her child is capable of, and sees him enjoying his life and accomplishing things that she might have taken for granted. She feels such love and sees him loving. And she uses her energies to raise awareness of Shaken Baby Syndrome so that others might not have to feel the powerlessness she went through.

Death and resurrection, emptying and being filled, powerlessness and the power of love, a need for fairness and a letting go of what’s fair to face what is. The chief priests and elders ask Jesus this morning about his authority. The word in the original language for authority is “That which arises out of your being.” It is about who you are at your core. When everything is stripped away, who are you? When we are empty, that’s when we really find out who we are and what is most important and we find not an absence, but God’s love filling us and giving us strength and resurrecting us to new life in which we look into our neighbor’s empty bowl and share of our abundance until all are full of God’s love and life.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

September 14, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
1st Reading: Genesis 50:15-21
2nd Reading: Romans 14:1-12

Ok, everyone, I have here a tally sheet of how many times Joseph’s brothers sinned against him. I will need your help. First they were jealous of him. Then they plotted against him. They threw him in a pit. They took his coat, killed an animal, put its blood on it and took it to their father to lie to him and tell him his son had been eaten by a wild animal. They kept that secret for years. Should we put a mark for every year they kept that secret, kept Joseph from his father and family? Now they come to him, and they haven’t changed their ways. They’ve got another lie to tell. They said, “Dad told us he wanted you to forgive us.”

Now we could try to make a list of every time we sinned against God. I don’t know if that would be helpful or not. I’ll let you make your own list at home if you think it would be valuable. We’re going to make a mark for everything we owe God, every way God has been generous to us. A roof over our head: should we put one mark for every year we’ve had someplace to live, or every day? How about food to eat? Do we make a mark for every day, or each meal? How about our profession? Do we put a mark for each profession we worked? For each year, for each day. How about family? Do we just count each one once, or for every time one of them did something nice? Then we’ve got friends. How do we measure how generous God has been to us. How about our health? How many marks for that? How about our congregation? How do we measure all that God has done for us?

Of course, the point is that we owe everything to God. There is no way we could ever repay a debt that large. But I’ve been thinking of it in terms of parenthood. Now that I have a child of my own, I can see what my mother did for me. Five years of constant supervision, every meal, every bedtime, every bath, washing every article of clothing, shopping, cleaning, teaching, guiding, everything. In the same way that I could never repay God, I could never repay my mother and Sterling could never repay me. Except that parents don’t do it to be repaid. We would never say that if our child was a jerk to another child that all that we do stops. No, we work harder to help our child grow into a generous person, kind to others.

I can’t think of God like I do this king, as someone who would throw someone and their whole family into prison to pay back a debt or punish and torture a servant who was unkind to someone else. Thankfully, the scripture doesn’t say this king is God. Instead, I think this is a picture of the kind of lives many people live. We live with debt hanging over our head. We sometimes step all over other people in order to get ahead. It isn’t always on our radar screen how we’ve been given everything we have, that it isn’t our due from working hard. Plenty of people work hard every day and have next to nothing. Even when we’ve “earned it” someone else has picked our food, processed our gasoline, built our house, cared for our children, and so on. What if we stopped feeling entitled and started feeling grateful?

If we started noticing all the blessings we enjoy and remembering where they came from, we would probably approach our lives very differently. That’s what this reading is about. The king hoped that his forgiveness of the servant’s debt would make a difference in the life of the servant, would sink in and affect his behavior toward others, just like a parent hopes that all the energy they pour into their child will someday result in some beautiful relationships, a capacity for forgiveness, an attitude of gratefulness, a kind and generous person, someone who thinks of others and their needs. God doesn’t require gratefulness and generosity in order to be generous to us. But God delights when God sees that behavior being mimicked in the world, because that means God’s values have been internalized. We aren’t just taking, taking, taking from God and taking it for granted that we get what we want. Instead, we are receiving more than just blessings, but an open and generous heart, a heart like our parents, like God. And when we have such an open heart and open hands, sharing what we have, we help create the world that God has in mind where everyone is valued, where resources and money are shared, and where everyone has enough and live in love and peace.

Now translate this from resources to forgiveness. We can make our lives a big contest to gather resources to ourselves and to take care of ourselves. That doesn’t fit into God’s value system and it isn’t going to do us any good, because eventually we all get sick and die. Sharing all that is what is going to mean abundant life, not just for us, but for our whole community and neighborhood. We can also make life into a game of innocent verses guilty. Since I make the rules, I always have myself in the innocent category. My behavior can always be explained or excused, but I make up stories in my mind about why the other guy screwed up and is worse than me. God says, you’re all alike in my eyes. There is no innocent. We all owe God a debt. None of us has lived a life above reproach or even near what we could have done if we had really trusted God. Jesus says we must forgive our neighbor, our brother, or fellow member of the church 77 times. The number 7 means “complete.” Put another one next to it and we’ve got completely complete. This is simply a number that says there is no number for forgiveness. There is no amount of times or tallies you can make on forgiveness. It is a process. You may think you’ve let go and it comes back to you. How do you even know if you’ve forgiven? Do you even want to forgive?

I think of Joseph. If it had been me, I probably would have said so self-righteously. I’ll forgive you all the rest if you prove you’ve changed your ways and admit you’re lying to me that dad said to forgive you. I’d want to lord it over them that I knew they were lying and that they needed me and they were afraid. That’s not what God says to do. It says to forgive. I’ve been looking at definitions of forgiveness this week, because it is such a difficult subject. The best definition I’ve heard is this: “Forgiveness means letting go of the hope that the past can be changed.” It doesn’t mean we aren’t vigilant with someone who has hurt us before. It doesn’t mean we let others hurt us, over and over. It doesn’t mean we never think about the wrong that happened to us. It is just a letting go of an obsession that wasn’t doing us any good to relive again and again. And another point, what is the alternative to forgiveness? As hard as forgiveness is, there is no viable alternative. We can seek revenge. That doesn’t help anyone. There is no satisfaction in that. We can keep going over it, again and again. That’s only hurting us. Forgiveness is the only possible way forward, the only opportunity for health for us and for others, the only way to freedom.

Thankfully, God is all for forgiveness. God sent the Son to show us that love and forgiveness is what God’s all about. And when we practice the values of our Father and forgive others we experience heaven and they experience heaven, the Kingdom of God right here, right now.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

September 7, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
1st Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-11
2nd Reading: Romans 13:8-14

Happy Anniversary, King of Kings. We’ve been together 10 years now. I don’t know if we should renew our vows, or buy each other flowers. I’ve never been that good at things like this. It is kinda funny, looking back over these years together—what we each were like when we came together 10 years ago and who we are now, what we’ve learned, how we’ve grown and what we’ve endured and what we’ve enjoyed about each other.

On this day, we get these readings about trust, and rebuilding trust, when needed. They tell a new pastor not to make any big changes for the first year and maybe not even for the first three years. That is so trust can be built. It takes a while for the pastor to get to know the congregational context. It takes the people a while to trust the pastor.

But these readings go way beyond pastor and congregation. They are about how people can live in community or family. We’re social creatures. We need each other. We need rules to help us negotiate that. We need ways of coming back together when we’ve broken the rules. We need each other. And it should make a difference how we handle these situations, if we are Christians. We have a special set of tools. We have a special set of teachings that, hopefully, help us figure that out and do something about it.

Paul, in the book of Romans, has been giving general ethical instructions, but now he moves into a new phase. In case your situation hasn’t been specifically laid out, so far, here’s what it all boils down to: Love.

Now you think that would be easy, but it isn’t. What does it mean to love? Does it mean I have to like someone? When do I use tough love? If I am loving, does that mean I overlook it, if they hurt me? Do I let them keep making the same mistakes, over and over again? Do I have to love absolutely everyone? How about Hitler? How about a child abuser? On the other hand, we throw the word “love” around until it is meaningless. “I love ice cream.” “I love your outfit.” Love becomes something superficial that we never put into action.

Paul reminds people that it isn’t just love, but to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” First, it isn’t about some hypothetical person that you might never meet. It is your neighbor. It is someone you run into now and then and have contact with. It might include your enemy, too, but it is a real life situation you are living in. Next, love them as yourself. It doesn’t mean to let yourself get walked all over. You have to love yourself enough that you have love to give to another. This love is about recognizing God’s handiwork in every person, including yourself. And some have suggested that perhaps trees and squirrels and rivers are our neighbors, too. That how we treat our world matters too and that what we put into the water or air is fundamentally tied to loving our neighbor. So it is even about recognizing God’s handiwork in every creature.

Then Paul goes on and we get to the urgency of it. We probably aren’t going to be convinced to start doing loving things because we are expecting the second coming in the form of angels blowing on trumpets and Jesus descending from heaven. I have heard of some people doing loving works near the end of their lives, feeling their time is short and sorting out their priorities in a new way. We might look at this urgency, though, in terms of a world in need, or a neighbor in need. Yes, maybe our neighbor might be able to wait another day for our love to be shown to them, but do we want to wait another day for this love to be born in our world, to exist between people? I would put it this way, “What are we waiting for?! There is love to go around! Let’s do this!” It’s like having a fresh tray of cookies. The sooner you get them distributed, the better!

Sometimes I think when couples get married, they look at it so cut and dry. “We’ll get married. We’ll always feel this way toward each other. We’ll have some kids. We’ll take vacations. We’ll get a house and good jobs and be happy. The end.” I don’t know if couples really know about marriage, how every day it is a full-time job, you have to work at it, very hard, and you don’t always feel like it. Sometimes you feel close to your partner and sometimes you don’t. And sometimes an argument about how you chop the garlic isn’t really about that at all.

Many other relationships are like marriages. When you join a church, it can be like a marriage. You have all your criteria for what you are looking for in a church and it seems to fit. There might be a little magic sometimes, those goosebumps. Finding the right job can be like a marriage or finding a community to belong to. But, no matter how good it starts out, misunderstandings happen, people sin against you and you sin against them. This Gospel reading shouldn’t say, “If another member of the church sins against you…” It should say, “When another member of the church sins against you…” This is part of what it means to be in a relationship. We step on each other’s toes. But we are a part of the body of Christ. We are committed to this relationship. So Jesus gives us some tips for surviving and rebuilding trust.

The first thing is so essential. Go to that person. Don’t just gloss over it. Don’t pretend you haven’t been hurt. Go and get it out in the open. And don’t wait for them to come to you. If you have a scratch on your arm and it is bleeding, you don’t just look the other way and hope it disappears. Sometimes I think we’ve been so afraid of conflict in a church, that we have caused ourselves a lot more pain and infections and scarring than necessary. Get it out there. There is probably a perfectly reasonable explanation. Chances are the other person has no idea they’ve hurt you and welcome this information. Now they have a chance to make it right. But don’t expect that. We don’t really have a right to get attached to certain outcomes. If the other person listens, you have achieved something pretty extraordinary, and that might even be enough to heal the wound or regain the peace.

And if by chance they are offended by your approach, here is a next step. Don’t think you are the first to have needed this step. That’s why it is here. Get someone to go with you. And it is ok to do that, because this isn’t just about you. When two members are fighting or hurt, it isn’t just affecting them. It affects the whole community. We are the body of Christ. The rest of the body is involved when the pinkies are fighting or injured. Sometimes other parts of the body have experience that will help fight the infection, or have access to bandages and Neosporin. Sometimes they hear something that the two having the original conflict have. This doesn’t say to go to others and gossip and get them to take your side. It says that everyone should listen and put the health of the body before petty differences. Decide what it is worth binding and hanging on to, and what is worth loosing, and letting go of.

And if they still don’t listen, treat them like a Gentile and a tax collector, that is, “Love them like yourself.” What? Forgive them 77 times. Have them over for a barbecue and eat with them. Come to the communion table with them. Be in the body of Christ with them.

We could all do better at this stuff, facing conflict, acting like adults. I’m learning just the same as you are. I have to say there is nothing better than two people who have had their differences and have reconciled, come to a place of love and acceptance of each other, people who have weathered hard times together and have that sticking power that you have to admire. I see it in long marriages. You know every moment has not been a walk in the park. I know that being part of this church is not always a walk in the park. I know that you have put up with each other and yourselves and me and I appreciate your stick-to-itiveness. It is like a mosaic of broken shards of pottery, each beautiful on its own, each formerly a part of something else. Now broken and damaged, but coming together to make a beautiful picture to spark the imagination, to inspire, to uplift, and to catch the light 1000 different ways and send back into the world color and warmth and love.

The good news for this morning is that Jesus is with us. We’ve had good times and not so good times, but Jesus is inviting us into relationship again, to be his children, to be brothers and sisters to each other, to experience extraordinary love, and to share that love.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

August 17, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 15:10-28
1st Reading: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
2nd Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

As many of you know, Camp Odyssey is very close to my heart. I experienced this camp for myself as a teenager in 1991 and it changed my life. It was my first exposure hearing real stories and getting to know people of different races, to be able to share my story as a young woman, and to learn about the daily lives of people in same-gender relationships. Four years ago, I and a group of former campers restarted Camp Odyssey and have run it every summer since. That’s where I was week before last.

The campers are high schoolers from all over Oregon. We fundraise all year to make sure that camp is free to every camper, so that rich or poor, any teen can afford to come. We’re trying to learn from each other, so we need the most broad, diverse group we can get. When the campers first come, they are shy and quiet. They need a lot of encouragement. It reminds me of the gathering of the outcasts in the first reading, “Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.”

The campers build trust with each other. The first day is team-building with a challenge course. The campers work together to complete fun tasks, learn to communicate, learn to work together, and build relationships. When we begin in the morning, we barely know each other. By the end of the day, we know who is a problem-solver, who is protective of the vulnerable, who is bossy and impatient, who is easy-going, and we have forgiven ourselves and each other for countless mistakes and moved on. We know we are capable of so much.

The second day we begin learning so many of the skills and vocabulary we’ll need for the rest of the week. We learn that we share so many things in common with each other. We learn there are many differences. We honor both the differences and similarities. We know each other’s lives aren’t easy. We learn about using “I” statements and how to express our feelings. We learn how to really share our story and listen to one another’s stories.

The third day we address race. We share our stereotypes with those of other racial groups. We deal with the prejudice that others have against us. In my group we reflected on our privilege and our responsibility and our guilt. And we see how these prejudices hurt other groups. Now, instead of a stereotype, we see a person, with feelings, and we know we have to work against all the ways society tries to tell us who these people are and dictate their worth.

The fourth day we address gender. The men and boys listen as the girls and women tell their stories of how they have been treated by fathers and uncles and boyfriends and the effect that has had on our lives. The boys share, too, what it is like to live in world where they are expected to hide their emotions, be tough, and participate in violence. We ask for and make commitments to each other to change ourselves and our communities.

The fifth day we confront homophobia. We share and hear stories of rejection, of teens being told it is just a phase, of girlfriends not being welcome at their sweet sixteen party, of violence and hatred, of parents breaking down in tears when they heard, of being thrown out of the house, of self-hatred, of cutting and suicide attempts,. It is heartbreaking and it makes us all want to stand up and create a better world that can value and accept each person.

Camp Odyssey, although not at all religiously affiliated, is a mini-version of the Kingdom of God, to me. And I think of church much the same way. The Kingdom of God is a mix of all kinds of people, all children of God. We all come from different backgrounds and experiences, and in sharing them, we get more of a whole picture.

We come together, at camp and at church, because we see our world and we know it isn’t the way it is supposed to be. This week I especially think of the racial tensions in our country and the focus on mental health and the disease of depression and the symptom of suicide. This world is messed up. We want to be a part of the solution, but we know that we are part of the problem, sometimes. We want to find a way to build a world of mercy and grace.

We come together, at camp and at church, and we get to know each other, sometimes through trust building exercises, or through working together on a project over years, or because of shared experiences. We may at first have preconceived ideas about each other, but we truly begin to see each other as human beings. We share our pain and hurt with each other. We are by each other’s side when we grieve a loss, when we endure our own shortfalls, when are disappointed in each other, when we are at our best, and so on. When church and camp are working right, we see each other not for our outward traits, or based on ideas of what one another is like, but as human beings. Therefore, when someone does something upsetting to us, we can go to them and try to find out the cause of the rift, we can try to understand and forgive. We can share our hurt feelings and be heard. We can know each other’s stories. We can change one another’s lives forever.

But we don’t stop here. Camp is a vision of what life can be like when we trust each other, share our stories, see each other as human, honor our differences and similarities, and truly live loving one another, not loving as a feeling, but as an action. Church is a vision of what this world can be like when we trust each other, welcome everyone, build relationships, share our stories, and truly see each other as human. And all this is to give us the vision and strength to transform our world.

Do we have trust in this world? Do we treat each other as human? Do we honor our differences and similarities? Do we share our stories? Not very often. But seeing how community can work well, can we use the skills we’ve learned to do just that? Yes. And we don’t start with the whole world. Maybe start with your neighbor next door. Maybe start with the person who just moved in down the block. Maybe start with your family or someone you’ve had an argument with.

I love this story of Jesus with the Canaanite woman. Jesus didn’t even see her. What would you do if you had a strange woman yelling after you, everywhere you went? You’d probably ignore her, just like Jesus. What an inconvenience! What would you do if you daughter was ill and no one could do anything for her? You would be persistent. She is in need. Her life is destroyed. All she wants is Jesus’ compassion. All she wants is to be treated like a human being. Jesus is focused on other things. He spouts so automatically the message he’s received from his culture. He’s there for the chosen people. She is nothing but a dog. Why should he have anything to do with her?

She doesn’t shame him. She doesn’t attack him. But she doesn’t give up either.
This woman knows that there is more than enough of God’s compassion to go around. She knows Jesus can help her, if he will only see her. She places herself directly in front of his face so that he will finally see her. He finally sees her and sees her value. He sees her faith is stronger than any of his disciples.

How many of our culture’s messages do we internalize each day that keep us from actually seeing a human being in need in front of us, that keep us from seeing Jesus Christ in our midst. We’ve got dirt on our windows that obscures our vision, messages of who has value and who doesn’t. Every once in a while we have the opportunity to have a light shone on the glass to show us what dirt has collected and that we aren’t seeing clearly anymore. This Canaanite woman is that light for Jesus today. The campers are that light for me every year and I am thankful for the opportunity to see the dirt that’s collected and make a commitment to clean that glass, to see people there instead of stereotypes, to ask people about themselves instead of assuming. And church is the same way. We’re here, admitting the dirt on our windshields in our confession and just by coming here, saying that we’re not complete. We shine a light for each other. We make a commitment to be with people who will shine that light for us, the poor, the imprisoned, the hungry. The scriptures shine a light. Jesus is our light. And we have the chance to wash our windows in the baptismal waters and see anew children of God all around us, even to see ourselves the way Jesus sees us, as precious children.

There is so much going on around us every day. We can’t help every person in need. We can’t stop to hear every story or look in every set of eyes. But are we willing to slowly dismantle the barriers we put up, brick by brick, examine our stereotypes of people and whether they have value or not, treat people like human beings, and give some of our time and compassion to them, as Jesus has for us? When we open ourselves to one another’s humanity, we become more fully human ourselves, we become more compassionate, and God creates through us in those moments the Kingdom of God. God has promised to transform our world ever more into the Kingdom of God through us, our stories, our connections, and our love. The Kingdom of God seems so far away sometimes, yet it is right here in our grasp, so close, so achievable when we take a moment to see a fellow child of God standing before us and to honor that person, to listen, to be affected, to love.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

August 10, 2014 Worship Explained

Worship: Why we do what we do

Sunday: We gather to worship God at least once a week. One of the 10 Commandments is “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it Holy.” Also, God rested on the seventh day. If God needed to, so do we. The seventh day, however is Saturday. We worship on Sunday because it is the day Christ was raised from the dead and because we give our first fruits to God, therefore we give the first day to God.

Liturgy means: “The work of the people” from “leos” meaning “people” and “ergon” meaning “work.” It came to be associated with services in the Church. Some use it to refer to the specific order of worship we follow on a particular day such as “Setting 8” or “Now the Feast.” That is also called the communion setting.

Once Martin Luther translated the Bible into the language of the common people, he was asked to translate and develop an order of worship for the church. He hesitated. He was concerned that once he did that, it would be set in stone and people wouldn’t keep adapting it to their times and places and it wouldn’t make sense anymore. That is the job we have today, to worship in a way that honors our traditions, but also makes sense in a changing world and in our present context.

This is called an “alb” meaning “white” as in the word “albino” to indicate the color of it. The use of traditional vestments by Lutheran pastors helps to draw attention onto their unique role in a service of worship rather than drawing attention to themselves as individuals. This is called a “stole.” It comes from the Bible verse from Matthew "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30"For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."


Prelude: The prelude prepares us to worship God. It is a time of transition from the outside world and pressures, to this Holy time in worship. During the prelude it is important to be respectful of those who are meditating. However, you don’t need to be rude and not introduce yourself to a visitor or say hello to someone nearby. Louder visiting can be done in the entryway or social hall. It is a matter of balance.

Welcome: God welcomes us and we welcome each other. Announcements can be made here that help people more easily participate in worship.

Confession and forgiveness: This grounds us in the reality that we are all in need of God’s love and forgiveness. We confess our sin and receive God’s promised forgiveness so that we can worship with clean slate, unburdened. This is optional.

The Sharing of the peace: As we have been reconciled with God, we are now reconciled with one another. The peace is a time where we share the peace we’ve received from God with one another.

Opening hymn: We sing this hymn to unite the congregation and to help transition us from the world into the mindset to worship God.

Greeting: Receive this greeting as if from God’s own lips. This greeting expresses God’s grace, love, and communion with all creation. It reminds us that we are truly in God’s presence. The greeting reminds of the greetings Paul used in his letters when he wrote to the various churches.

Kyrie: “Kyrie” means “mercy.” It’s use in the church dates back to the 4th century. “Kyrie eleison” means “Lord have mercy.” In the Kyrie, we greet our Lord as people of old greeted a king when he came to their city. One can also say, “Christe eleison,” or Christ have mercy. Part of the words come from Revelation 5:12-13, a vision of angels praising God in the heavens. This is about the way we approach God. I think of the prodigal son, approaching his father’s house, hoping his father would be merciful. Of course his father came out and embraced him and threw him a big party. Mercy also has the same meaning as compassion. We are appealing to God who is compassionate. The Kyrie is optional.

Hymn of Praise: We sing this hymn in thanksgiving to God and to praise God for all God’s gifts. "Glory to God in the highest'' is an ancient song which begins with the angels' Christmas carol (Luke 2:14) and swells into a profound adoration of the Holy Trinity. An alternative is "This is the feast,'' a modern song based on phrases from the Book of Revelation. This hymn is optional and is omitted during Advent and Lent.

Prayer of the Day: This prayer unites us with Christians all over the world, who gather on this day to pray the same or a similar prayer and worship the same God. The prayers are on a three year cycle that goes along with the scripture reading.


Scripture reading: These readings form the backbone of our weekly worship. They shape the selection of songs, prayers, and everything else. The lessons are recommended from a three-year lectionary cycle that seeks to present the breadth and depth of God in Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. The cycle walks us faithfully through the many important scriptures and keeps us from just selecting the parts we like. That way we encounter not just the comforting passages, but also the ones that challenge us. Except for minor differences, we share a lectionary with Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Missouri Synod Lutherans, and Methodists, scripture readings are to be received as if coming from God’s own mouth which is why we say “Word of God, word of life.”

1st Reading: Usually from the Old Testament.

Psalm: It can be simply read, read responsively, sung, chanted or omitted. A choir anthem here is a modern day psalm.

2nd Reading: From the New Testament, other than the Gospels.

Alleluia verse or Gospel Acclamation: An expression of joy to get us ready to hear God’s word in Jesus Christ. We stand as a sign of respect for God’s word.

Gospel: A reading from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, the stories of Jesus.

Children’s message: This is a relatively late addition to worship and is optional. The Children’s Sermon can be another way for people to clearly hear and receive the good news of God’s love.

Sermon: This is the living address of the Word of God, the scriptures applied to our times. We trust that through the Holy Spirit, the word the preacher speaks will make God’s word come alive in our lives. Listen for the Law and the Gospel. The law reminds us of God’s standards and how we can’t live up to them. The Gospel reminds us that’s why Jesus came, to live up to them and unite us with him and God, giving us new life.

Hymn of the Day: This hymn is meant to reinforce the themes for the day, the lessons, and the message of the sermon.

Creeds: These words express a brief summary of our faith. They emerged in a time of immense conflict and sought to state clearly the beliefs that define the church. We live in the legacy of that early church movement today. It may or may not surprise you that not everyone believes every word of the creeds, but it is a matter of being part of something bigger than ourselves and a jumping off point for exploring and understanding our faith. Creedal statements of what we believe about God are found in Paul’s letters: Romans 1:2-6 and 1 Corinthians 3-8. The creeds are an optional part of worship and can appear in their current forms or in song, such as “I believe, I do believe.” Some congregations or individuals have written their own creeds about what they believe about God.
The ancient meaning of the word “believe” had nothing to do with accepting certain statements as truth or fact. It meant more what “belove” means. It means to treasure and hold close to the heart.
Apostles Creed: The shortest of the creeds. Covers God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. First appeared 390 ad but entered its present form in the early 8th century. When it says, “I believe in the holy catholic church” it has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic with a big “C” refers to Roman Catholicism. Catholic with a small letter “c” means universal. When we say we believe in the holy catholic church, we mean that the church is bigger than any denomination and that Christ unites all Christians in one family.
Nicene Creed: Issued in 325 by the council of Nicea to defend the faith against controversies. It has been adjusted several times over the years.
Athanasian Creed: A lesser known, longer creed, meant to settle certain controversies about the Trinity and the Incarnation between 381 and 428 ad.

Prayers of the people: These can be responsive prayers or bidding prayers. The prayers start big and move into smaller areas of life and then extend out again. We begin with a petition for the Church, which is considered all-inclusive of everything in the universe. We pray for God’s creation. Then we pray for the nations of the world. Then we pray for those in need. Then we pray for our particular congregation. Finally we move to the world beyond and pray for all who have died.


Offering: We offer what God has first given us. These offerings come from gifts God has given us. We are invited to be cheerful givers, not begrudgingly giving. And we are invited to give of our first fruits, the best of what we have, rather than the excess. It is a chance to take a leap of faith and make a sacrifice, knowing that God will continue to provide. For giving to the general fund the congregation takes the first 10% and tithes it to the synod to benefit the church in Oregon which funds ministries here and they give about 50% to the ELCA who funds ministries around the world. Sometimes children bring an item of food. Once a year, you are asked to make an estimate of your giving for the upcoming year so the church can form a budget and figure out how to cover expenses. The Choir sometimes sings during the gathering of the offering or special music offered and these are considered offerings of the gifts of voice and music. We offer a prayer after the offering.

Offertory: We sing as the gifts are brought forward of the financial contributions and sometimes the offering of the wine and bread for communion. This gives time for the table to be set and to transition into communion.

Great Thanksgiving:

Sanctus: “Holy, holy, holy” are the words of the four living creatures, representing the 4 Gospel writers, in Revelation 4:8. It is a hymn of adoration and is optional.

Eucharistic prayer: Reminds us of our part in God’s story of love.

Words of Institution: From accounts of the last supper in the Gospels.

Lord’s Prayer: The way Jesus taught the Disciples to pray.

Lamb of God: A song to help us join the imagery of the sacrificial lamb with the meal we share and Christ’s sacrifice for us to take away our sin, also optional.

Communion: The combination of God’s promise to be present in this meal, Jesus having participated in it, and the earthly elements of bread and wine, make for a “sacrament.” We’ve got 2 sacraments in the Lutheran church, baptism and Holy Communion. We believe that Christ is truly present in the meal, “in, with, and under the elements.” We don’t believe that we’re sacrificing God or that there is a chemical change, but Jesus died once and for all and gave his body and blood as a sacrifice for us to share in remembrance of him in this meal. We are invited to remember and focus on God’s love for all of us and all the world. We have Holy Communion every Sunday because it is the chief act of worship and something Jesus asked us to do to continue to experience his love in a tangible way.
Occasionally bread or crumbs fall to the floor. In Martin Luther’s time there was a big controversy about only the bread being offered in communion because of fear of spilling God all over. Most Lutherans believe, “If God can get in, God can get out again,” and don’t worry if some spills or crumbs fall. You may just take the bread or wine/grape juice and still get all of God.
Some people cross themselves at Holy Communion. It is in remembrance of our baptism where we were adopted into God’s family when we were “Marked with the cross of Christ forever.” With the right hand, starting with the center of the forehead to the bellybutton, left shoulder to right and back to the center. It is used where there is a cross indicated the hymnal liturgy, for instance on the last page of “Now the Feast and Celebration” for the blessing “May God look on us with favor and + give us peace.” Martin Luther recommended the sign of the cross to begin one’s prayers on arising and retiring.

Post Communion Prayer: A prayer asks that we may carry out in our lives the implications of Holy Communion, that communion would affect us in our daily life.

Post Communion Canticle: Our response of jubilation at the gift of God’s presence in Holy Communion and all that God has done for us.


Blessing: From the Old Testament (Numbers 6:24-26), blessing of Aaron, so that we can then be a blessing to others.

Sending Hymn: To encourage us to go out to our everyday lives and live our faith and God’s love in relationship to others.

Announcements: To share news of the church and to keep people up on what is going on with each other.

Dismissal: A minister speaks words of Dismissal, telling us to "Go in peace. Serve the Lord." in daily life, which is also worshiping God. We respond: "Thanks be to God."

Postlude: Some consider this background music, while others stay and listen to the music being offered. Please be considerate of those listening as you leave.