The Way of Lent

Rock and sand webMarch 3, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11

I look for something important to come from these 40 days of Lent. I’m not sure exactly what it will be. I will likely be surprised. Lent is not only about the individual but also about the congregation. It’s not about self- improvement or better programs. It goes deeper than that. It’s about faith and following and being met by a grace that lifts us up again and again. It is a season meant to reach into our real struggles so we can regain balance. Where the love of Christ resets us, renews us and steadies us. Here we discover our true vitality, the source of mercy and the character of community where forgiveness is known.

Lent has always been that time when the church goes deeper into soils rich with promise. Lent gives us permission to be honest about real human need. And there we see the mystery of God’s self- giving ways still at work. Faith centers our lives. We gain our footing through the practices of that faith where worship takes hold. There we remember what we might easily forget. There we are strengthened and filled up. There we are named again and again – “children of God.”

While it may seem that the 40 days in wilderness would be a time to easily get lost, it became the place where Jesus gained his bearings for all the work yet to be done. The same Spirit, present in his baptism where he was named God’s “beloved,” led him into the wilderness. The wilderness and it’s testing, became the place of accompaniment, vision, resolve, and resiliency. By this we know Jesus went before us so that faith can keep finding us wherever our wilderness may be.

Pastor Randy

Eternal Lord of love, behold your church
walking once more the pilgrim way of Lent,
led by your cloud by day, by night your fire,
moved by your love and toward your presence bent;
far off yet here – the goal of all desire.
- ELW 321


We Can't Stay Here

transfiguration 2Friday, February 24, 2017

Matthew 17:1-19

They should have known.

They should have known when Jesus found them, strangers minding their own business on the seashore and called out, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

They should have known when Jesus sat down on the mountainside and spoke the most ridiculous words with such complete and utter sincerity that no one dared laugh, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

They should have known when Jesus did not hesitate to answer a disciple’s perfectly reasonable request with, “Follow me and let the dead bury their own dead.”

They should have known when Jesus sent them out without silver or gold or copper, without a bag, without a spare change of clothes, without a fee for service, but only with instructions to do the impossible and the rallying cry of, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.”

They should have known when Jesus always seemed to be going out of his way to bring them into conflict with the religious leaders—by eating with sinners and tax collectors, by healing and plucking grain on the Sabbath, by attracting attention, by speaking out against them, by refusing to play their games.

They should have known when Jesus foretold his suffering, death, and resurrection, and in the next breath, invited them all to “deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me.”

They should have known.

That this mountain top moment was just a stop along the way. That this bright clarity was just a fleeting vision. That the peaceful moment in heaven’s spotlight would soon be rudely interrupted. That their time of being set apart from the crowd, the world, the trouble, the risk, it was all just temporary. That any rising feelings of pride in their own discipleship would soon be dashed to the ground.

That too soon, Jesus would simply turn and walk down the mountain, and without a word let them know what they should have known all along, “we can’t stay here.”

The Harding Thing

sermon on the mount

Friday, February 10, 2016

Matthew 5:21-37

Put yourself in the place of the disciples for a moment.

Imagine being called out of your day job and immediately swept up into the whirlwind of following Jesus--of travel and teaching and healing and casting out demons. Imagine the spreading fame and the adoring crowds that grow by the hour, by the minute. Imagine the pride of being able to say, “I am with him.”

Now imagine taking a break to sit down and catch your breath –and hearing this:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

Imagine that moment of confusion, all of you shifting uncomfortably, looking around at the others as if to ask, “is he talking to us?”

Imagine that sinking feeling, “Is he talking to me?”

Go ahead—put yourself in the place of the disciples for a moment, because this is the word Jesus is speaking to his followers today. Yes, this is the word he is speaking to you. This word is for all of us.

Before going any further, Jesus wants to make it clear that this calling, this ministry is to be an exercise in facing the hard things. Jesus will lead his followers repeatedly into encounter with the hardest things out there in the world—sickness, poverty, oppression, loss, fear, death. But this ministry will also bring the followers face to face with the hardest thing of all—themselves.

In order to follow Jesus, disciples have to face the worst that is within. And Jesus makes it clear, there is ugliness in each and every one of us. Those very sins we might excuse and explain away, those are the sins Jesus places an even heavier emphasis upon. Jesus upends the scale. He scatters the rankings we’ve devised. No one is blameless. According to these standards, everyone is liable to the hell of fire.

Put yourself in the place in the disciples and try to suppress that resistance you are feeling. Just like them, try to tamp down all the arguments you want to shout out in your defense. Hold on to find out what is coming next. There is good news to be found in the hardest things. Even in this. Especially in this.

And here it is: Jesus’ forgiveness is for those who need it.

And who better to share this good news with the world,
than those who have received it?

And who better to share God’s grace with others,
than those who know they are in no position to judge?

For you. For me. For us. For them. That sounds like really good news

Pastor Sarah

Called Anew

tracks in snow small

Friday, February 3, 2017

Matthew 5:13-20

Seldom have I met anyone in congregational life who would say, “I am the salt of the earth.” For one thing it would sound rather presumptuous if not a little strange. But as a pastor I have seen that “saltiness” at work over and over again. It is heartening for sure. It helps us to keep the faith and to live from the center of the gospel. In sharing with others in ministry I have thought to myself many times, “Surely here is the salt of the earth.” That saltiness shows itself not only in good work done but also in ways people choose to be present.

As we appreciate the giftedness of others, our idea of what it means to live out the faith is expanded. We can think of new ways we might use what is in us and before us to make a difference for others.

Not always being aware of our own individual contributions indicates the wonder of how God is always at work through us and among us. When Jesus told the disciples that they were salt and light, he was talking to them collectively, as community. So it was both about the individual and about others. He was naming what was already true! This was the starting point! This was recognition of who they were in the company of Jesus. From here he could challenge them to a greater imagination and a deeper participation in the kingdom.

The image of salt conveys what is daily, what is needed, what is zestful. While we may prefer to make the big impact, this part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount reminds us that what we share, even if it seems rather small and mostly inconspicuous, can be significant. The prophet realized this: Then your light shall break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up quickly (Isaiah 58:8a).

And so we look around and we take notice of the many and varied ways we share in the gospel today. While we may feel the demand to be doing more, we never lose sight of the work we are called to do daily, in our homes, in our neighborhoods and in the world.

Being in this together is what makes the church alive - full of promise and purpose!

Pastor Randy

Here in this place the new light is streaming…
Here we will take the wine and the water,
here we will take the bread of new birth,
here you shall call your sons and your daughters,
call us anew to be salt for the earth.

- ELW 532


BlessedMatthew 5:1-11

I recently learned from a rabbi that in some traditions of Jewish thought, the poor and sick are seen as cursed, while the wealthy and healthy are seen as blessed.

But the rabbi was quick to point out—that’s not where it ends. There is more:

Because of their special status, the blessed are obligated to care for the cursed. The rich are required to give to the poor. The healthy are responsible for the sick. This is not a matter of choice. This is not optional. This is not extra credit. This is a mandate.

Spend some time with Old Testament law and you will see repeated provisions for taking care of the widow, welcoming the stranger, giving alms to the poor, forgiving debts, caring for the sick. And yet, among those so fond of quoting Leviticus, these laws get very little attention.

As in all cultures and belief systems, people have a tendency to overlook the inconvenient aspects-- the parts that require something of them. But as we see in the biblical witness —from the prophets, from the law, from the mouth of God—is the message, “this is not just about you.”

So along comes Jesus, knowing what God has asked of the people and seeing how they are failing miserably at it. First thing, in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus has a sit down with the disciples what we usually refer to as “The Sermon on the Mount.” The crowd and the rest of us get to overhear as he begins with these radical words:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

It seems as if Jesus has turned the whole system of blessings and curses on their head. It seems as if he is throwing away centuries of teaching. But as Jesus is quick to say moments later in verse 17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

Jesus is taking it all even further because this is what he expects of his followers. He wants them to go overboard in living out their blessed responsibility. He wants them to live the commandments to the limit, and beyond. Keep reading and you’ll find:

Don’t murder? Don’t even insult a brother or sister.

An eye for an eye? Turn the other cheek, go the second mile, give to everyone who begs from you.

Love your neighbor? Love your enemy.

And when the followers over-do it, when they go all in, when they share in each and every one of their blessings so completely, so fully—that is when you can no longer tell who is blessed and who is cursed. That is when these ridiculous words come to be true. That is when the kingdom of heaven has come at last.

Pastor Sarah