By This Everyone Will Know


Friday, April 22, 2016

What are we followers known for?

John 13:31-35

This week, join me in a little experiment.

Right now, our congregation is in the process of surveying the membership—asking for their perspectives on Faith Lutheran Church. What do we do well? What are our opportunities to grow?

The perceptions of our own members are important. They will be useful as we reflect on our ministry as it is, and where we go next.

However, something this survey process is not taking into account is what everyone else thinks of us.

Everyone else?

Yes, the wider community: our neighbors who live down the street, the people who shop and work in the businesses in the area, the people who pass by on University Avenue day after day, the ones connected to some other faith community, and the “nones.”

What do they think of us?
What are we known for?
If you asked them, what would they say?
Would they have anything to say?

In these last moments before his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion Jesus has some important parting words for his disciples. More than last minute instructions, it is a new commandment: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

This love is about more than just benefitting the disciples, the believers, the insiders. This love is to be a witness to the world, an identifying characteristic, a sign. This love is not to stay among the community, but radiate outward, in a way that others can’t help but notice.

Are we known for our love?

I dare you, ask someone who is not a part of this congregation.

For it is from the outside looking in, that we will we find out if we are truly living as Jesus’ disciples.

Pastor Sarah

Do You Think This Is Funny?

fishingApril 8, 2016

We find the whole range of human expression in the scriptures—even comedy.

John 21:1-19

There’s something funny about this week’s gospel.

Not just funny weird, but funny ha-ha.

The resurrected Jesus has shown up to his followers three times, so of course that means it is time to go…fishing?

A mysterious figure appears on the beach, pointing out (maybe taunting) their lack of success, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” And despite the events of the past weeks, no one imagines that it could possibly be Jesus…again.

Their efforts have failed miserably, with nothing to show from an entire night of fishing. And yet, when they cast their nets according to Jesus’s direction, in an instant there are so many fish they almost capsize.

Peter realizes it is Jesus and that he happens to be naked in the same awkward moment.

Then in a scene worthy of Laurel and Hardy, Peter throws on his clothes and throws himself into the water. Soaked and panting he arrives, thrashing his way toward the shore. Meanwhile everyone else glides up effortlessly in the boat. You can imagine the looks on their faces, “Silly Peter, we were only a hundred yards from shore.”

And then we hear, “Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord.”
Yeah, right.

Comedy is not just entertainment, but a clever way to get at the truth. Comedy shows us something about ourselves, the world, that we might not otherwise be able to receive.

It’s funny, because it’s true. And that’s the case with this scene.

We’ve witnessed the resurrected Christ...yet how many of us just go right back to our everyday lives and mundane tasks?

Jesus appears to us, again and again…and how do we fail to notice, again and again?

We futilely toil and struggle, doing it alone, doing it our way. But what abundance would be possible if we would just listen and follow Jesus’ direction?

More often than not, when we recognize Jesus is present, it makes us painfully self-aware, even embarrassed. How do we handle those feelings?

Even in Jesus’ present, we still have doubt. Are we honest about that?

So, can we see something of ourselves in these ridiculous, bumbling disciples? Can we laugh at ourselves and learn from it?

Pastor Sarah

Empowered by the Holy Spirit

IMG 3078John 20:19-31

Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." - John 20:21-22
In the past 30 days, this congregation has participated in two major fundraisers for the upcoming youth mission trip to the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota: The Silent Auction & Spaghetti Lunch and, most recently, the Easter Breakfast. A significant portion of our costs is funded by these events, and we are deeply grateful for the continued support of mission trips like these from this community of faith.
With all of the time and energy spent on organizing these fundraisers, it is important to remember the reason we set out to do mission work in the first place. In a sermon meditation from 1940, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer reflected on the words of Jesus from this week's gospel reading: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Imagining the community of disciples (minus Thomas) gathered around and listening to Jesus, Bonhoeffer wrote, "There is no community with Jesus that is not at the same time a call to service." That is, any community with Jesus as the center-like ours-is by definition called to service in the world. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
Then, immediately after commissioning the disciples for service, Jesus imparts on them the Holy Spirit. Why is this significant? Bonhoeffer writes: "The one who has fought sin and death, the one who comes forth from the battle won, from the resurrection morn, is able to bring the disciples what no human being could obtain: The Holy Spirit ... Only in the possession of the Holy Spirit can the work of Jesus be done."
As our 46 youth and adults prepare for our week of service this summer, we do so knowing that our mini-community within the larger community of Faith is one called to service and empowered by the Holy Spirit. And we do so with hearts full of gratitude for the support of our congregation in just one of the many and varied ways we live out the baptismal call to "Serve all people, following the example of Jesus."
Jake Bouma, Youth and Family Ministry Director

At Early Dawn

snowy branch smallFriday, March 25, 2016

Luke 24:1-12

There are those in my life who help me remember. I don’t mean remembering as in dwelling on the past or as nostalgia. It’s the kind of remembering that holds in front of me experiences and words that help me see the present moments better. Without the prompt of “do you remember…” sometimes I might just lose sight of something that holds great importance toward the future.

What we do as a community of faith on so many levels is this helpful prompting toward remembrance. I walk through these days of Holy Week aware of the ways we call to mind what we don’t want to forget. We proclaim the mystery of the faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. Such things are not merely interesting facts to store away but a promise to live by.

The tomb is found to be empty. And two men in dazzling clothes bring the news of resurrection to the women who are present. The women are perplexed and terrified. The reaction is, well, understandable.   With such unexpected and unusual news it’s no wonder there’s fear. The news changes everything about their future. And it will immediately redefine the very next things. It will give a whole new meaning to hope.

“Remember how he told you” are the needed words here at the end of Luke’s story. As the women remembered what Jesus said in Galilee they found the nerve to tell the others what they had heard and seen. The others at first could only hear the story as an “idle tale.” But something happens in the telling. The news of the risen Jesus becomes their good news.

It is in the remembering and the telling and the celebrating that love finds its way once again into the heart of our fears, and doubts. We are raised up to faith and we can see with clarity of grace and courage!  

Pastor Randy

Come, celebrate; your banners high unfurling,
your songs and prayers against the darkness hurling,
To all the world go out and tell the story of Jesus’ glory.
-        Rise, Shine, You People! ELW 665

Extravagant Discipleship

The Unction of Christ, mixed media on canvas. Julia Stankova
The Unction of Christ small

Friday, March 11, 2016

Mary is an example of discipleship: generous, over the top, wildly inappropriate.

John 12:1-8

When the pastor of my home congregation found out I was considering seminary, he called to let me know that the congregation would cover the full amount of tuition. This was astonishing to me on so many levels. My own parents had not offered to pay for my college education, let alone graduate school. Now here out of the blue was the church, offering to give thousands of dollars a year, for several years. I had had no expectation that congregations ever could or would do things like this. I could hardly believe this incredible gift! It just seemed too extravagant to be possible.

However, it would turn out that the congregation would also come to view it the same way.

During the second year, a few days into the second semester I had an email from the financial aid office indicating that that my tuition payment was overdue. When I called my pastor to clear up this oversight, I found out that it had not been a mistake. The congregation had voted to cut support for seminary students from the budget, ending it entirely.

It had been decided that it was just too expensive.
There was no room in the budget for this excess.
Considering the congregation’s own expenses, it just didn’t seem appropriate.

After a short (but terrifying) time, some generous individuals from that congregation stepped forward to help me get through the year. However, from that time forward, this extravagant gift was no longer a practice of the congregation.  

The word extravagant literally means to wander outside of reasonable limits.

In every way, Mary’s gift is extravagant.

The perfume is rare and expensive.
The amount is excessive.
The act of wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair is incredibly inappropriate.

Judas’ words, on the surface, are sensible, “why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”

But instead of agreeing, Jesus tells Judas in so many words to “shut it,” and draws the attention of all at the table to Mary.

She gives without hesitation.
She gives more than is necessary.
She gives with wild abandon.
She gives without regard for all of the world’s shoulds and supposed-tos.
She gives above and beyond the reasonable limits.

And as she gives, Mary reflects the extravagant gift that God had given her in Jesus.

In the contrast between Mary and Judas, it is clear to see which one is the disciple we are to emulate.

And yet. And yet.

Pastor Sarah