At Home with Compassion

snowy city smallMarch 4, 2016

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

I was back to my home town the other day visiting my mother and drove by the house I grew up in. It was a long time ago when I left there for college and then to live in many other places. To see my childhood house naturally brought back memories. You know how that is. The memories remind us of the importance of place and what it means to be home. Mary and I have moved enough so that we have wondered where we feel most at home. Everywhere we have lived has brought wonderful connections, friendships and more dear memories. It has helped us widen our understanding of home.

Now in Iowa we have come to appreciate a new place and feel once again that we are home. What makes it so is in large part because of the life and nature of the church. You can say that the gospel is always bringing us back home. The hospitality of congregational life and the means of grace are constantly returning us to the heart of our relationship with God and with others.

The parable of the prodigal son shapes an important understanding of what it takes to feel at home. We learn that it is not merely us finding a place to call home but the realization that by God’s grace we are found to be at home. In other words, home is where love abides.

In the parable we see the wayward son coming to his senses to return home. We see his older brother who has never left home. At the center of the story is the father who filled with compassion runs down the road with open arms to welcome in the prodigal; he then turns to his elder son to remind him that he too shares in the same compassion that brings them all together.

Lent is a season for homecoming. The time invites us to participate in compassion in most real ways! This compassion is of welcome, mercy and new beginnings. It turns us to look at our relationships anew and to celebrate the gift that brings everything together. Paul’s words are fitting to the parable: that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Pastor Randy


Fig Tree RootWhat’s at the root of this parable?

Luke 13:1-9

Parables take an ordinary life moment and twist it with unexpected details. It is this surprise element that catches the listener off guard, leaving them to pause and puzzle over what had at first seemed to be a simple, straightforward story.

Therefore, it helps to know something about the earthly subjects that parables feature. While topics like plant cultivation, vineyards, and harvest would have been common knowledge to the people of Jesus’ day. People of today, well…not so much.  

If you’re like me, you know very little about fig trees.

But here’s what I learned after doing a little research:
Fig trees have a very aggressive root system.
These roots help the plant to be highly drought tolerant, allowing them to seek deep and far to find water.
Because of their extensive roots, fig trees can thrive in even poor, rocky soils.
Thanks to the vigorous roots, a fig tree can successfully grow on the side of a rocky cliff, or even spring forth from the cracks in an ancient city wall.

Now knowing this, the reader can’t help but wonder, “just what is this fig tree’s problem?”

3 years of prime growing time has passed and nothing. The vineyard owner is right to be disappointed. From everything we know about fig trees, this particular tree is an astounding failure. It‘s not that it has done something wrong. It’s that it has done nothing. It has borne no fruit. It is just taking up space.

This parable is offered up as an illustration after Jesus remarks to the crowd, “But unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” So, what does this have to do with repentance?

We often think to repent from the things that we have done. However, we are less likely to seek forgiveness and turn away from the things that we have left undone.

Our inaction.
Our apathy.
Our lack of fruit.

But as we ponder what that might mean for our own lives, we also need to keep in mind another strange thing about this parable…

The gardener steps in.

It is his hope that some pampering will encourage the desired results from the normally hardy tree. Digging around the tree will clear the way of obstacles so that the roots may extend with little to no effort. The manure will enrich the soil, giving the tree everything it needs to produce fruit.

The tree should not need any of this. The tree should be able to do it on its own. But because of the gardener, it won’t have to.

Pastor Sarah

Gathered & Sent

geese small

Friday, February 19, 2016

Luke 13:31-35

Even under the threat of Herod, Jesus stayed the course; he kept doing what he had been doing all along. There was work to be done and courage would lead the way. We may be taken by Jesus’ persistent commitment to the goal of the kingdom even while there was so much resistance.  And we may pause during Lent to think about the image he likened himself to: the hen gathering her brood under her wings. At a first glance it doesn’t seem to be a picture of courage or strength but one of great vulnerability.

At this point in the journey couldn’t Jesus have found another kind of reference, something a little more inspiring than a hen? The season of Lent offers a time to look closer at what we might otherwise pass by with a disinterested glance or a certain sophistication. It is a season for our proclamation of what is life giving and full of hope! We seek such renewal.

Maybe Jesus was trying to help us make an unlikely connection between courage and vulnerability. Maybe the image was meant to direct our thinking toward compassion and the way of the cross – the great lengths God goes to reach us in love. In Jesus’ “day in and day out” work a path was forming toward Jerusalem. Living out of his calling meant a willingness to be genuinely present for the suffering of the world.

The image of the hen brings a reassuring word to us when we feel most vulnerable, needing to find the courage to love, to do something for others even though there are no guarantees of getting anything in return.

In the flow of the gospel story the hen reminds us of the promise of gratitude and even joy. It gives us the very glimpse of resurrection life. Love is at the center of all of this and it brings about the kind of connections that carry the deepest meaning and the greatest purpose! What a powerful message for us in the church as we seek to celebrate the gift of belonging and to find our way forward by humble service.

Pastor Randy

God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross you promise everlasting life to the world. Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy, that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son, Jesus Christ.   -ELW

Into the Wilderness


Thursday, February 11, 2016

It’s time for us to go there.

Luke 4:1-13

On Ash Wednesday it hit me: this is a strange thing we do.
We listen as the scripture call us to do the things that don’t come easy: humility, charity, prayer, fasting.
We confess a lengthy and detailed list of our sins.
We willingly line up to have our faces smeared with ash.
We allow someone to tell us the hard truth that we will die.
We do it publicly.
We do it together.

It’s nothing that the people want.
It’s everything that the world does its best to avoid.
It’s the opposite of what our culture celebrates and values.

Nevertheless, this is the direction we head every year in Lent. And Christians aren’t the only ones.

Every major religion has a season set aside for communal acts of mourning and repentance, when all are called to engage in self-discipline and practice compassion. It seems that humanity realized a long time ago that this was something the individual could not do alone. We need a community to face up to the things that scare us the most: our failures, our temptations, our mortality.

And because we do it together, we are engaging in an act of resistance to the most tempting and seductive of lies:
I can do it myself.
I can fix myself.
I can save myself.
I am alone.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus appears to be on his own out there in the wilderness.
But he is not.

All the while the Holy Spirit is leading him, filling him despite his empty stomach.
Jesus quotes scripture, not to best the devil, but to remind himself that he is not alone.
The Word is his constant companion.
Trust bridges the isolation, bringing the Father close.

And we are there, too. Those hearing this story over the generations are with him, also.
So that for all the times that will come—when it seems as if one is all alone—we can remember the truth. We are not alone. We were never meant to be.

As we set off into the wilderness of Lent, ask yourself:

How will the community go with you?
How might God be present—in spirit, in word, in the flesh?

Pastor Sarah

I’ve Heard It All Before

Transfiguration Painting by Alexander IvanovFriday, February 5, 2016

In worship it seems like we hear the same scriptures over and over. Maybe that’s because we all have some trouble listening.

Luke 9:28-36

On the last Sunday of the Season after Epiphany—and right before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent—the gospel lesson is always an account of Jesus transfigured on the mountain.

Although the details vary from Mark, Luke, or Matthew…
Every time, it is the same basic story.
Every year.

Jesus, Peter, James, and John go up a mountain.
Jesus prays.
Jesus and his clothes change in appearance (he is transfigured).
Moses and Elijah appear.

But the truly interesting thing about this story is what happens next.

This painting by Alexandr Ivanov, captures the scene at the moment Peter decides to interrupt the moment with, “Hey Jesus, I’ve got an idea…”

What a good lesson for all of us to hear.

Every. Single. Year.

Jesus is time after time telling us how things are to be as followers, in the kingdom of God, in the new life of the resurrection. Jesus is over and again showing us what this ministry does, and says, who it is for. Jesus is always leading us towards the cross and beyond. Jesus is repeatedly revealing the power behind his words.

And the disciples are always interrupting.

So, “love your enemies,” is a nice idea and all, but it’s not really that realistic…
And when it comes to “don’t judge,” well, you wouldn’t say that if you knew what they did…
I know you said, “you give them something to eat,” but we’ve got other bills to pay…
I heard what you said about, “follow me,” but first, I have a few other things to do…
I know what you said about suffering, dying, rising…but can’t we just stay here?

There is a cloud lurking in the background of this painting, foreshadowing what is coming next.
And before Peter will be able get his complete thought out, he himself will be interrupted as a voice from above thunders, “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!”

Once again, it is time for us to listen up, as well.

Pastor Sarah