The Dawn From on High

snow smallFriday, December 18, 2015

Micah 5:2-5a and Luke 1:39-55

As we count the days to Christmas, measuring time by what we have yet to do, we trust that there is still room to give ample attention to matters of faith as well. The challenge of Advent is to take notice of those things that can easily get overlooked. Often it is in the unremarkable that we discover the sustaining and transforming gifts. Our Advent time best prepares us for Christmas joy when we measure the days by God’s goodness and wisdom.

In this way we might ask: have we noticed anything new in this season of our lives? Has hope enlivened us and filled us with expectation for the Christmas message – the fulfillment of God’s promise born in Bethlehem? Are we any more awake to God’s activity among us? I think of Zechariah’s song: By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us… (Luke 1:78) Do our yearnings lift our sights to such promise?

Themes of the season name how faith is active in love: patience, preparation, repentance, and waiting! While our tendencies would have us hurry by with worry, the season calls us to slow the pace so we can take notice. The songs, prayers and reflections of December lead us to be awake to where God draws near.

The prophet Micah could see in a place called Bethlehem the certain promise of God at work. It was from such an unlikely place that God’s surprising way forward could be found. And so we sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” And the lives of Elizabeth and Mary told in Luke’s Gospel brought this home. They gave witness to the faithfulness of God by their reception of God at work through them. Their stories like that of Sarah and Hannah remind us of the arc of God’s reassuring promise over time and through ordinary places and people.

Christmas worship is around the corner. We will celebrate the story and join in the song of the church across the pages of time. If we let it, the relationships around us that are so much a part of our ordinary days and routines just might shine brightly enough to be noticed for the gifts that they truly are. And we too might even surprise ourselves by all the kindness given and received – signs of “the dawn of redeeming grace.”

Pastor Randy

A Voice Crying Out

repentFriday, December 4, 2015

Luke 3:1-18

Our passage from Luke begins with a veritable list of who’s who, the people and places that matter in the world at that time: the emperor in Rome, the governor of the province, the rulers of the territories, the leaders of the Temple.

And then suddenly, our attention is directed to a nobody in the middle of nowhere.
He’s calling the people names.
He’s calling them out on their arrogance.
He’s not pulling any punches.
He’s demanding that they too change their ways.

And still he draws a crowd.
But the most remarkable thing of all…they are listening to him. Rather than beating him to a pulp, they ask, “What then should we do?”

Can you imagine this being a part of our culture’s Christmas preparations?
…to gather willingly as a community and face our faults?
…to go seeking another person’s perspective on how we need to change?
…to really listen to the hard truth?
…to call this good news?

Instead we seem to pile on the Christmas stuff, right on top of whatever is already there.

And the Christmas tunes ring hollow as we hear of another mass shooting.
And the family celebrations are tense because the unresolved issues have not gone away.
And the manger scenes are simply decorations because there is no welcome here.
And the prayers are just words.
And the joy is illusive despite all the effort and expense we go to.
And nothing that we consume will fill the emptiness.
And when the Christmas celebration is over, the same old stuff is still right there waiting for us.

But imagine just for a moment what Christmas could be like if we prepared according to John’s way. To enter the celebration of Christmas with sins acknowledged, brokenness mourned, action identified to live in this world in a different way. To prepare for this holy day turning to and longing for the only one who can redeem. To welcome the coming kingdom into our lives right now. To trust with all our hearts that, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

So, which of these ways sounds like good news to you?

Pastor Sarah

Fear and Foreboding

Jesus Coming SoonLuke 21:25-36

Many kick off the holiday season by polishing off the turkey and heading to the mall.
Some are still chewing as they pull into the Wal-Mart parking lot, Bing Crosby on the radio.

Retailers have already been nudging Christmas into our view for weeks.
But from the minute we leave the dinner table, the flood gates have officially opened.
There is no stopping it now.
Until the sun sets on the 25th, it will be all lights, candy, and credit card fueled Christmas cheer.

In the church, we get, eh, something a little different to start things off.
And this Sunday, it is really, really different.

…and on the earth distress among nations…

People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming up the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken…

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with overconsumption and drunkenness and the worries of this life…

Not exactly Christmas card material.

And yet, it is exactly what Christians need to hear as we prepare for the coming of Christ into our lives.

Just like in the days of Luke’s gospel, the world is once again being consumed by fear. The names and the places have changed, but the story is always the same.

Fear causes the people to become confused, to lose their way, to abandon their values, to forget the true source of their hope. The worries of the world send the people seeking for their solution in all the wrong places—the accumulation of things and the many and varied forms of self-medication. Fear and foreboding causes even the faithful to faint and fall away from the purpose to which they have been called by their God. Some use their fear as justification to lash out with violence.

Perhaps you’ve noticed some of these things taking place.

Over the din Jesus calls to us:
Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

 

In the face of fear, Christian, you are to respond with faith.

You are to act out of trust.
You are to live in hope.
You are called to live now in God’s kingdom, in anticipation of that day when it comes into its fullness.

And Christians, don’t be confused by all the noise you are hearing all around you. Turn again to the Word, and Jesus in the gospel of Luke will show you exactly what life in his kingdom looks like.

Pastor Sarah

As Grains of Wheat

Barn at duskJohn 18:33-37

November 20, 2015

After worship every Sunday, I stand at the entrance and extend greetings. I like being outside and I am often asked if I will continue the practice when winter settles in. Sundays come around rather quickly and by being at the front doors it helps me to be mindful of the way the gospel keeps inviting us back. And it helps me to be aware of how the gospel goes forth into the world through the lives of others. I feel the very movement of our witness in that part of our “worship.”  

Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the liturgical season. Advent begins a new one. We move from the year of Mark to the year of Luke. Always centered in the proclamation of the gospel we as a congregation are shaped by our worship life from week to week. While it all may feel like a matter of routine we do trust that something real is at work in our hearts and among us. There is a presence that draws us back into a living relationship with the God of promise.

While we may be filled with plenty of distractions, the weekly gatherings of the Christian community keep bringing us back to our identity and to the truth of “whose” we are. So over time the very formation of faith is taking place and we discover the significance of this kind of belonging. Here we find a rhythm to our daily lives: gathering and sending; receiving and giving; listening and speaking; resting and working.

Christ the King Sunday brings perspective to the busy weeks. Looking back through the seasons we feel grateful for the on-going expressions of living the faith in community with one another. This last Sunday of the church calendar is a helpful reminder that the reign of Christ is a gentle rule of love for healing and wholeness.   In the good gifts received and in the challenges given we embrace this duty and delight to gather and to serve through the seasons of our lives.        

Merciful God, as grains of wheat scattered upon the hills were gathered to become one bread, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom, for yours is the glory through Jesus Christ, now and forever, now and forever. Amen   (Sundays & Seasons 2015: Augsburg Fortress)

An Enduring Quality

dark night webNovember 13, 1015

Psalm 16:7-8
7I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
8I keep the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

After confirmation class the other night, I especially felt grateful for the opportunity to share in the teaching ministry of the church. My words could have echoed the Psalm, I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me night after night. The more I teach, the more I become aware of the on-going nature of learning. In many ways it is in the teaching moments when we can see the connections between our faith and daily life, regardless of our ages.

While it is hard to measure the effectiveness of any one class time there is the realization that all of this somehow adds up and makes a difference. You hear it in the questions and see it in the interactions; you feel it in the kindnesses and sense it in the quiet ponderings. In my teaching time, I feel as if I am sharing in this wonderful task that has defined the mission of the church from its beginning.

I can easily say that I learn much by being in the company of our children and youth. As a grandpa I am especially mindful of how they give varied expressions of a hope that draw us into the newness we come to know through the love of God. In our tradition we treasure the way that words carry promise and invitation. There is an enduring quality about this so we naturally and gladly give ourselves over to those things that pass on the faith and serve a greater hope for all things.

This is the same spirit that accompanies our life of stewardship at Faith. By participating in the mission of the church we are strengthened in a good hope as our sights are lifted toward new horizons. And the joy of this comes because it touches the chord of our human need to share, to be present for others and to contribute to something beyond ourselves. While this may not always be stated in the routines of our programs it still remains and the very character of congregational life is strengthened. Our witness – what we say and what we do then take on integrity, a wholeness fitting to the very gift of the gospel.

Pastor Randy

Gracious God, your goodness surpasses everything else. Uphold us day after day, and teach us night after night, that we may follow in the path of life and be filled with resurrection joy; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. – ELW, Leaders Desk Edition, Augsburg Fortress