Faith Conquers Fear

scary movieI don’t like scary movies. Wait, let me rephrase that, I HATE horror movies of all kinds. Yes, I am using the word “hate”- a word my children are told is not allowed and that I truly try to not use in my vocabulary. However, when it comes to me and those movies, hate is the only thing I can think of. I don’t like to have things jump out at me, can’t stand gore, and don’t even get me started on scary dolls or those twins in The Shining.

Some of us like to be scared. Jaws grossed $260 million domestically (and for some of you rolling your eyes at me, yes I consider Jaws a very scary movie). It’s exhilarating to have the increase of heart rate, that surge in adrenaline.   Nope, not for me.

I had a psychology professor once tell our class that when surveyed, people fear public speaking more than death. When we heard that, it seemed ridiculous, crazy even. But, I have many fears that to others may seem senseless; scary movies being near the top, along with snakes, seaweed, mice, the zombie apocalypse (ok maybe I’m being a little dramatic) just to name a few.

But our Psalm this week tells us:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Simple enough, right?

There are the fears that live much deeper inside of us. Fears that we sometimes can’t even bring ourselves to think about because the reality of them seems insurmountable. The loss of a child, family members getting sick, financial instability, vulnerability, addiction, fear of other people.

What does our fear do to us? At times it can be crippling. Fear can cause anger, sadness, loneliness, the inability to see outside of ourselves. Fear can cause us to hate.

When faced with such fear, there is only one place in which to turn: Faith.

Such a simple word, but sometimes a challenging concept. I came across a sermon from Deitrich Bonhoeffer about overcoming fear. His words on faith spoke so much to me.

Only the faith that leaves behind all false confidence, letting it fall and break down, can overcome fear. This is faith: it does not rely on itself or on favorable seas, favorable conditions; it does not rely on its own strength or on other people’s strength, but believes only and alone in God, whether or not there is a storm. It is the only faith that is not superstition and does not let us slip back into fear, but makes us free of fear.

Erika Weber, Co-Director of Children and Family Ministry

Come and See

PrisonFriday, January 13, 2017

John 1:29-42

A lawyer friend of mine says that when she’s trying to get someone to come along with her on an issue of justice for others, she does not point to a higher moral calling, she does not bank on another’s virtue, she does not try to sway with sympathy—she appeals to their self-interest.

“What’s in it for me?”

And in our lesson this week, as John the Baptist points out Jesus to his disciples, as Jesus turns and invites a couple of them to “come and see,” as Andrew found his brother Simon and brought him along, this question is there. It’s on their hearts, even if it is not on their lips.

What’s in it for me to follow you instead of going home for dinner?
What’s in it for me to follow without you telling me where or why or when it will end?
What’s in it for me to follow you, Jesus, who haven’t proved yourself yet, in any way?

As a pastor, it seems like my entire job description is to get people to go places and do things that they might not have otherwise planned. I have learned from experience that the self-interest angle is often quite useful, for “because Jesus said so” only gets you so far. But it’s not always possible to figure out how to speak to self-interest in every case.

So here we were on Thursday night, standing outside of the Iowa Correctional Facility for Women. We were about to attend a worship service at Women at the Well, a congregation made up entirely of inmates. Since I had never been in a prison before, I had no answer for “what’s in it for me?” Instead, a number of our group might tell you they ended up there because of the patented Pastor Sarah Ask—“I’m going, will you come with me?”

“Come and See.” Curiosity was enough to get us in the door.

But now that we’ve been, we do have some answers to “what’s in it for me?”

As we sat down next to the women, we were instructed not to ask about their crimes or sentences, not to get too personal. However, many offered without prompt. Our imaginations were captured with thoughts of the family who came to visit or didn’t, the hurt left behind back home, what it was like to have a release date far off on the horizon or never.

We left that night with their stories on our minds.

As we worshipped, the service was very much like our usual Sunday experience. And yet, everything sounded and felt so different on the inside. The hymns had a different tenor, the scripture a different gravity, the communion more present, the prayers more immediate, the confession and reconciliation of greater importance.

We received a fresh experience of something so familiar.

As we looked around the room we saw that, aside from the clothing and name tags, the people really didn’t look any different than we’d encounter on the outside. As we visited with the pastor and volunteers following the service, we learned about some of the circumstances beyond their own control that contributed to their present situation—abuse, learning disabilities, mental health issues.

We walked away with awareness that it was little more than accidents of fate and a wall separating us.

And when it was time to leave, a volunteer handed us a small but thick stack of papers. In different handwriting: names, worries, hopes, thanksgiving.

We headed out into the cold night carrying the prayers of others in our pockets.

Pastor Sarah

Starting Today

DoveFriday, January 6, 2017

Psalm 29 & Matthew 3:13-17

What do we make of the baptism of Jesus?

Through Matthew we gain an appreciation that Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfillment of the promise. We see that Jesus will participate in God’s mission in the world. Through his baptism, Jesus is equipped to go forward clear about to whom he belongs and the work he is to do.  

Last year about this time I was visiting the Holy Land. One day on our way to Galilee, we stopped along the Jordan River. The river at this location was fairly narrow, meandering through tall grassy banks. As I stood just feet from the water’s edge, I tried to imagine the drama of the day long ago when Jesus was baptized. I thought about the Spirit descending like a dove and the voice from heaven breaking forth upon the waters. Being there brought the event closer at hand.

I was not alone. There were many who came by buses to this point along the river. They eventually waded into the shallow waters as a way to mark the festival of the Baptism of our Lord. In their remembrances and by their actions they were renewing their own baptismal promises. For them this was one way to embrace baptism as an ongoing and present gift!

The psalmist acknowledged how the voice of the Lord is upon the waters and that it is a voice of splendor. In this light we can understand how the baptism of Jesus was God’s on-going, creative work in the world. As the baptism of Jesus revealed who Jesus was and showed his commitment to God’s redeeming ways, so we can hear that summoning voice that calls us into the unfolding work of God still today.

In that work we are renewed in our identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters.

 I’m going on a journey, and I’m starting today.
My head is wet, and I’m on my way.
Christ’s mark is on me; it’s on you too;
It says he loves me, and he loves you too.

(ELW 446)

Pastor Randy

Are You Threatening Me?

threat cropThursday, December 29, 2016

Matthew 2:13-23

I see this billboard every day on my way home from the church. Perhaps you’ve seen it too?

If you haven’t, I am sure that you have seen ones like it--those “evangelism” efforts that deploy Jesus’ words in a 14 foot tall threat.

This isn’t a difference of interpretation.

This is an out and out manipulation.

For this sloppy paraphrase of something Jesus did in fact say was wrenched from its context (as part of a specific conversation with a particular audience) and writ large to do something Jesus never intended.

It sounds very different to hear “no one comes to the Father except through me,” as one of the remaining 11 disciples sitting at the table of the last supper than as a non-believer on their way to the grocery store. It is a very different experience to catch this line out of the corner of your eye rather than to hear these words spoken as part of a long declaration of love and sacrifice that begins with Jesus washing feet and ends with him being arrested and abandoned. The difference between Jesus’ teaching and these kinds of threats is shocking and when you know something about the life Jesus lived.

Jesus didn’t come to threaten. He came to be with the threatened. We see this from his very first days in the gospel of Matthew.

He is among the refugees fleeing a brutal regime. He is the baby wailing in the arms of his frightened and exhausted mother. He is the civilian that tyrants threaten and slaughter as they cling to and grasp for power. He is the “illegal,” unwelcome and unwanted. He is the needy one, utterly unable to help himself, completely dependent on the compassion of others.

He is among the threatened. He is one of them.

So why is a King, a commander of armies, a man with everything he could ever want so afraid of this little baby?

By crouching among the powerless, Jesus is a threat to those who stand with the powerful.

By letting himself be rejected, the Son of God is a threat to those who refuse to welcome the stranger.

By giving away and giving up all he has, even his life, Christ is a threat to those who despise the poor and take advantage of vulnerable.

By speaking of God’s mercy and grace with his whole life, the Word made flesh is a threat to those who would try to use his words like a weapon.

Perhaps I should take back what I said earlier. Maybe Jesus is threat, after all.

Pastor Sarah

All the Light We Cannot See

sound 495859 960 720Friday, December 23, 2016

John 1:1-14

“All the Light We Cannot See” is the title of a novel by Anthony Doerr set in Europe in the 1930’s and 1940’s as totalitarianism envelopes Germany and marches on into France. The main character stumbles upon a mysterious voice broadcasting on the radio. While tyranny descends and the world unravels into ruin, the anonymous voice communicates hope—a hope that cannot yet be seen. And in the simple act of speaking out loud, this hope becomes a reality.

It takes a few years and a lot of suspenseful, heartbreaking page turns to get there.

Christmas morning we are greeted, not by shepherds and angels on the outskirts of Bethlehem, but by an anonymous disembodied voice transmitting from who knows where. On this day people all over the world are tuning in to listen. Recorded long ago, this voice is still speaking to us now, telling us, “The light shines in the darkness.”

But if we are looking beyond the Christmas lights it just doesn’t really seem possible, does it?

The winter is literally a dark time, because the days are so short. But looking out upon the world, it seems as if the shadows of cruelty and violence, bigotry and greed, deceit and avarice are advancing. Looking upon on upon our own lives, there are places where grief, anger, fear, and loneliness create deep voids that threaten to swallow all that is good.

But still the voice is speaking these curious and confounding words of hope:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
In the proclamation the Word is made flesh.
In the speaking this hope becomes incarnate.
In the listening this future becomes our present reality.

The light shines in the darkness, even if we cannot see it…yet.

Pastor Sarah