Gospel Greetings

pinecones

Friday, December 16, 2016

Romans 1:1-7

The very first words that Paul wrote in his letter to the congregation in Rome had a way of getting at the heart of the matter.

Paul got to the point in his salutations. They provided a connection with his audiences and set the stage for needed understanding. Matters of calling, gospel and Spirit came to the forefront in these first lines in the book of Romans. As he developed his letter he brought depth and clarity to the central things he first mentioned.

Hearing these words of greeting today, with Christmas around the corner, I can see better the gift of congregational life. While Paul felt “set apart for the gospel” he recognized and affirmed the ministry of the baptized, “called to belong to Jesus Christ.” This is the kind of belonging that flows from grace and mercy. It is a fuller engagement in the work we are called to.

Notice that Paul mentioned both the birth of Jesus and the resurrection in the same sentence. It all adds to the mystery and wonder of the nativity. The event of Bethlehem set in motion a redeeming grace – God at work making all things new.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by;
yet in thy dark street shineth the everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. (ELW 279)

The gospel Paul proclaimed reminds us of both the vulnerability and the grittiness of the good news of Christmas. Redeeming grace is close at hand. Our attention can be given over to the places and people and events where in faith we see God drawing near to set free and to make new.

Our attention can be given over to the opportunities before us to be gospel to others.

We find our way to worship in this season because as always we need the gospel. We need a presence and a promise that addresses our fears and lifts us to hope. We need the light – the radiant light – the everlasting light.

Pastor Randy

Evergreen

redwood tree 1638390 1280Green Christmas

This narrow month of winter when most we huddle close, let trees stand in our center, boughs broaden our house.
Let forests arise from floors, stems commingle with men: walls shall go out of doors as verdant woods come in.
How rims of ceiling unfurl reaching a range unused. Branches largen the hall. Dimensions are disenclosed.
Proper the dwellings wherever are sheltered the far-fetched plants, the tracts brought in under cover: green be this residence.

Nina Farber in A Birth In The Family Nativity Poems

Manger Memento
Here's a silken straw, one of a hundredfold that once in winter lay under a dreaming child and let him rest softer than usual hay allows the farmer's beast roughly to lie.
He slept unruffled, he woke in light. Here's a reminder. Remember it.
Nina Farber in A Birth In The Family Nativity Poems
Evergreen
How fine the sweetness from the bough, Evergreen, ever living, like the prayer offered now for a whole world's forgiving; while the Christ Child is sleeping, world of woe in his keeping, world of joy in his dream. Lord, redeem us! That when thou art waking, the hearts we uplift shall be thy Christmas gift and be well worth thy taking.

How bright the radiance of the tree, Evergreen, everlasting, like the feast day to be after long years of fasting. Bright in hope Christmas morning to the Christ Child returning, once again we believe. Lord, receive us! When we come before thee, the heart's joy we bring Noel! Shall sing and forever adore thee.
Robert Hillye

Well, here we are again another Advent and Christmas season. It seems to come faster and faster each year. Here we are again, breathless, never enough time to decorate, never enough time to get all the shopping done never enough time to prepare, rush rush and more rushing! For a moment let us consider the magnificent Evergreen tree, mighty, majestic, strong, protective, ever moving and ever refreshing. It seems to me that we might learn something from this beauty of nature. Could we think of our community of Faith as an Evergreen? Could we think about the church being strong and steady as the roots of the Evergreen? Could we think about the church being a protective and warm place as the boughs of the Evergreen protect the floor of the earth? Could we think about the church as a community of individual nettles nourishing each of us and giving life for what's to come? Could we think about our community as being able to withstand the wind as the Evergreen does through its deep and strong root system? Could we think that our community, like the Evergreen is "ever living and everlasting"? We are so blest here at Faith. We have wonderful and intentional ministries. We experience meaningful worship experiences; all of these ministries give us opportunities to be together. I would suggest that we don't need to rush friends. Let us take our cue from the beautiful Evergreen - ever growing slow and steady. Trees grow toward the light and Christ came in light! Let us journey towards the light together.
 
Dave Johnson
 

 

Season's Greetings

axe

Matthew 3:1-12

Looking for glad tidings of Christmas cheer?

Sorry to say, but you won’t find it in the Gospel of Matthew this week…yet again.

Instead we’ve got a man gone wild, shouting insults at people in the wilderness. He’s making threats with an axe. It’s Jack Nicholson from The Shining crying out, “Here’s Johnny!” https://vimeo.com/150423192

That doesn’t seem right.

It seems, um, not safe for church (NSFC).

Very clearly someone made a mistake…either the folks who put together the Revised Common Lectionary that dictates which lessons are read in worship each Sunday…or the Gospel of Matthew for not giving us a manger scene...or maybe even God for choosing this kind of messenger?!

But remember what angels, God’s messengers, say each and every time they show up in the scriptures?
Do not be afraid.

They have to tell us not to be afraid, because they are terrifying. They are terrifying because those messages they bring from God are so different from what we want to hear. They are terrifying to us because they ask us to take part in something so different from what we are already doing. They terrify us because they ask us to trust in the impossible, putting aside everything we thought to be true.

We are terrified, because they ask us to be changed.

So really, John the Baptist in all his camel’s hair glory, is nothing less than what we should expect coming from God. We should not be surprised that his words are not sweet to our ears, for the only thing he’s honey coating are his locusts. With his fiery words and a metaphorical axe, he’s clearing the way for something new.

And maybe, just maybe, this wildly inappropriate—some would even say offensive—delivery might get us to turn away from every other distraction and turn back to God, so that we can behold what God is about to do next.

Pastor Sarah

Giving Thanks for Ruin

Jesus CameMathew 24:36-44

A preacher’s task is to find the good news in scripture and proclaim it.

This is not a hard thing to do—if you get to pick out your own scripture. Facebook witnesses to an entire theological world view based on uplifting, inspirational quotes cherry picked from scripture and type set over photos of sunsets.

However, for many Protestant preachers like me, especially in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, each week the preacher is handed a scripture they did not choose. Instead, those of us who preach the Revised Common Lectionary commit to faithfully embrace the task of preaching, regardless of what we’ve been given. No sidestepping, no explaining away, no “hey, look it’s a bird…now let’s talk about how much Jesus loves you!”

A faithful preacher must take it all—judgment, challenge, discomfort, division, destruction, death—and engage in the gut-wrenching struggle to find and proclaim the good news in the midst of it.

This is not a hard thing to do. This is an awful, exhausting, heart-breaking, and ultimately dangerous task (if the life of Jesus is any indication). Bishop Michael Burk of the South Eastern Iowa Synod put it in this way as he preached to a room full of preachers this fall, “Jesus came to ruin your life.”  

And still, I hear something within me saying, “It is worth it.”

In life, the vast majority of us get what is handed to us and we just have to deal with it. For all followers of Jesus, preachers or not, the task still remains to find the good news to share and a voice with which to proclaim it.

And so, we need a good news that does not go around, but straight through. We need a good news that peels back every painful layer until we get to the heart of the matter, where the healing can finally begin. We need the good news that ruins the way things are right now to make way for something new.

Because this good news is the good news that will preach to real life. For the worst moments. For the most trying times. To the ugliness around and within. To death itself.

I look down at the scripture in my hands and I honestly don’t know what to do with what I’ve been handed this week. I don’t want to give thanks for the mess Jesus is promising to make of my life. But still I find myself beginning the task of preaching once again. The good news must be in there somewhere, because I trust deep down that Jesus really, truly is present in this life.

Pastor Sarah

A Healthy Walk

trail web

Friday, November 18, 2016

Colossians 1:11-20

Along the miles of sandy roads through county forest in northern Wisconsin are wild blueberry bushes. They thrive in the dry and acidic soils near scrub oak, jack pine and hazelnut. All part of what we call Pine Barrens. White tail deer, black bear and sharp-tailed grouse can be found there.

It was a tradition in my family to walk these roads and pick buckets of blueberries in the middle of summer. It felt mostly like work when I was a youngster but the rewards were worth it: blueberry pancakes, blueberry pies, blueberries on ice cream, or simply blueberries by the handful. And then there were the blueberries gladly given away for others to enjoy!

It turns out that the walking, gathering and eating were tremendously healthy. It was a shared labor, a time set apart to be aware of all that surrounded us.

It quietly gave needed perspective.

The ancient hymn from the opening words of Colossians was meant to give perspective to a community at worship when perspective might have been hard to come by: … his beloved Son is the image of the invisible God… for in him all things in heaven and earth were created… and in him all things hold together… and through him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…

So I have been thinking about the need to walk more. And maybe a long thoughtful walk on those forest roads would do me good. St. Augustine said that “It is solved by walking.” And maybe this kind of walking is not meant to be only solitary. It might very well be the kind of walking that includes others. And maybe this kind of walking reminds us of what finally holds all things together.

In our Thanksgiving traditions, it might be healthy to find time to go for a good long walk, to breathe some fresh air and in the going quietly offer our prayers for the sake of faith and the needs of the world. And it might be a good thing to invite someone else to walk with us and to join in the kind of conversation that can bring a needed perspective. Then when we come back to the table we can better appreciate the journey we all share in together!

I am glad for worship. Times set aside to pray and to proclaim and to be in community.

Almighty God, our Father, your generous goodness comes to us new every day. By the work of your Spirit lead us to acknowledge your goodness, give thanks for your benefits, and serve you in willing obedience, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. – ELW

Pastor Randy