All posts by Pastor Jamie

About Pastor Jamie

My name is Jamie and I like to think of myself as Jesus-Feminist-Pastor-Mom. I serve as a pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, WI. Yay! I currently live in Mondovi, WI with my husband Chad and our toddler son Bennett, and baby Brandt. We spend our days chasing our toddler and now crawling baby around! We love God and love serving this beautiful and crazy world that God loves so dearly. Follow me!

Jesus Loves Me

Jesus Loves Me this I know

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Hearing that song just warms my heart.  I could never get tired of hearing children sing that song.  In Rachel’s Place chapel, we sing Jesus loves me almost every week.  It’s so important because if there is one thing that they will leave here knowing- I want it to be that Jesus loves them.  There is nothing else as important as that.  Jesus loves you.  Your pastors love you.  Your teachers love you.  Your families love you.  You are loved.

You are a child of God.

When our staff brainstormed about what it means to be a child of God, we came up with the following words: loved, cherished, worthy, hopeful, faithful, believer

When we teach our children that they are children of God- we give them a gift. We teach them that God loves them, and we teach them that they are worthy of that love.

There’s a quote I love from one of my favorite bloggers, “Be confident- You are a child of God!  Be humble- everyone is too.”

When we raise our children in a faith community we give them the incredible gift of knowing that they are loved- but it does not end there.  Rather we teach them that because God first loved us- we in turn love others. When we raise our children in the faith we help them to care about others too.  We help them to care about the world.

Our scripture reading today from 1 John 3:1-7

Our Bible reading today marvels at God’s love.  God loves us so deeply that we should be called children of God.  That is true for each of us. From creation, God created people in God’s image, male and female.  To be created in someone’s image seems to be another way of showing that parent/child relationship.  We were made in God’s image- to be like God.  We are God’s children.  John reminds us of this in his letter.  He writes to the followers of Jesus, calling them little children of God.  But to be born of God spiritually in Jesus- takes it a step further.  Every person is a child of God- and yet God calls us to live into this identity.  John says that we are children of God when we practice righteousness or when we are fair and just.  He puts it another way by saying that we live in the light of Christ when we love our brothers and sisters. (aka all people!)

“We love, because God first loved us.”  As our song goes.  That Bible verse comes later in John’s letter.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”  This is true for all of us, but especially our young children.  We do not know what their futures may hold- but we do know what kind of a future we would dream for them.

When are children are little- they can’t get enough time with mom and dad, and grandpa and grandma, aunts and uncles right!?  Yet, as they grow older and become more independent how do we continue to care for them and raise them in the faith?

In our confirmation program we do small group time where the youth meet with their group guides and share highs and lows as a part of the FAITH5.  It’s a great time to get to know each other and share in each other’s lives.  They can really form a great bond doing this.  As we were starting to fill out our thank you cards for the group guides this week- I was talking to one of the eighth grade groups.  I asked, “Will you sign Julie’s card?” “She’s awesome! We love Julie!” they told me.

Here they have a space to share their lives- with a mentor- another adult teaching them the faith.

If you do not know your child’s highs- you do not know your child.

If you do not know your child’s lows- you do not know your child.

That is what Rich Melheim the founder of the FAITH5 says.

FAITH5 is one of the ways here at Hope that we work to pass on faith to our children and youth.  The FAITH5 consists of Share, Read, Talk, Pray, Bless.  A nightly ritual at home of sharing highs and lows, reading a scripture verse, talking about how that relates to their lives, praying together, and blessing each other.   A simple ritual that fosters communication, helps them apply the Bible to their lives, and reminds them that they are loved by God and by their family.  What if these things were done every night with our young people?  What if our families committed to being in church every week to gather for support and encouragement?  Think of the child that hears that message every day and every week.  Now… think of the child that does NOT.  We are not helpless in this.  We can live lives of purpose and love.

Every night in the home.  Every week at church– that’s the mission of the FAITH5- and really our mission at Hope too.  Together we can raise our children in the faith- we can teach them the stories of God, we can teach them that they are loved and they are children of God.  We can partner with families to teach our children how much they are love by Jesus and by others.

One day after having my own kids, I was talking to my mom and I asked her, “how did your kids turn out so well?”  She is the mom of 4, and did a great job raising us.  We all still love coming home.

She looked at me and said, “Time.  We gave you our time.  There are no shortcuts.”

Families these days don’t always have an abundance of time, and that is why the time that you have together is precious.  Fill those precious moments with love- invest in your children.

We can say the same for all of our relationships.  There is no substitute for quality time together.  Sometimes it takes a risk, to step out and share love with those in our lives.  But it is worth it.

Check out the FAITH5 website for more great resources! http://faith5.org/

Easter Message of Fear and Joy

With Fear and Great Joy

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Matthew 28:1-10New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Resurrection of Jesus

28 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,[b] and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Our story begins as the day dawns on the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, perhaps Mary the mother of Jesus, come to the tomb.  The beginning seems quite ordinary: loved ones visiting a tomb. This bright and early morning could have been the same story that many experienced before this and many after this.  The story of death.  The story of loss.  The end of the story. And yet for this Easter story the grave is not the end.  God is about to dramatically intervene.

“Suddenly there was a great earthquake.”  An angel of the Lord descends from heaven and rolls back the stone and sits on it.    The guards cannot handle this overwhelming scene.  The guards, who should be the epitome of strength, are weak and become like dead men.  The women, who in biblical times were perceived as weak, are strong and clearheaded.  Yet the women who came to visit Jesus’ body- do not faint.  They stand to hear the angel’s message.  “Do not be afraid.”

The phrase, do not be afraid, or fear not, is found in the Bible over one hundred times.  I think it is one of the most important messages that God gives to us.  And I think one of the reasons God uses this message so often, is that we can never be truly rid of fear.  Fear is a part of life.  And yet, we are not to be paralyzed in fear.  We should not allow fear to stop us from hearing the good news.  We should not  allow fear to stop us from knowing Jesus.  We should not allow fear to keep us from living, and loving, and experiencing the goodness and joy of this life. Our scripture says the women left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  “With fear and great joy!

Joy and fear are emotions that often go hand in hand.

When we experience joy- we must do this wholeheartedly.  We can’t experience a little bit of joy- rather joy is an overflowing experience.  To experience joy, we must open ourselves up to living in the present moment. And when we open ourselves up to the present- we are vulnerable.  You can’t experience joy without vulnerability.  Being vulnerable means that we are also opening ourselves up to other experiences.  Being open to joy and love- also means being open fear.  When we are truly living, we are experiencing everything on life’s spectrum.  We will feel more joy- we will know more love- but we will also experience fear, loss, and grief.

  • Imagine learning to ride a bike for the first time. To balance- you must let go of the ground and trust your body.  You feel the joy of riding with the wind in your face.  Yet at the same time, there is still the possibility that you will fall.  There is joy and fear.
  • Imagine holding your precious baby or grandbaby for the first time. There is pure joy at the beauty of this new life.  And fear, because this gift is beyond our complete protection. Joy and fear.
  • Imagine applying for that job, or that perfect school. The hope of what it may bring also brings the fear of rejection and disappointment.
  • Imagine allowing ourselves to fall in love again- after a broken heart- with fear and great joy!

Allowing yourself to hope can be a risky thing.  It means putting yourself out there.  It means being open to the world.  When the women see the angel of the Lord, they are afraid.  When they see the empty tomb, they allow themselves to hope.  They are living in both fear and joy.  They are joyful because they have hope that the good news, may indeed be true.  That Jesus, their beloved teacher, is alive!  That they will see him again.  That he is waiting for them in Galilee.  They are fearful because they may again be disappointed with grief.  They have experienced something so unexpected- they do not know what will happen next- they are afraid.  They are experiencing fear and great joy!  They are so overcome with these emotions that they are running- they run to tell the disciples.  “They left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

And what happens next is perhaps the most surprising thing of all- they run into Jesus.  Jesus in the flesh.   In their fear and their joy and their running- they encounter God.  They meet the risen Christ.

In our lives, when we experience joy- we too run into God.  When we allow ourselves to hope.  When we allow ourselves to live in this present moment and experience joy- even though it also means befriending fear, we find God.  Our joy is a holy testament to the resurrected Christ.

Suddenly Jesus meets them and greets them.  It’s important to note the words that Jesus greet Mary and Mary with.  Our translation says, “Greetings!” And yet the root word is the same as the root word for joy- it is a greeting of joy.  Jesus’ emotions mirror the women.  And yet, what is not present?  Fear.  In the new creation- Jesus is filled with joy, without fear.  What a beautiful promise for each of us.  Someday we will know the perfect love that casts out fear, completely.

After Jesus greets the women- they worship him.  They take a leap of faith.  And Jesus again repeats the message. “Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  The women are privileged to be the first witnesses to the resurrection.  The first to carry the good news that Jesus is alive, that God has not left them.    They are to tell the brothers and sisters that they will see Jesus in Galilee.  Galilee- the place where Jesus healed, and preached, and performed miracles.  The place where Jesus taught his disciples.  Jesus will go ahead of them Galilee.  The women carry this word of hope, with fear and great joy.

Hope may be a risky thing.  But a life without hope- is not a life truly lived.  A life without hope is a life without: joy, love, purpose.  The account of Jesus’ resurrection is a story that needs hope.  As Christians, we do not have the privilege of being first-hand witnesses to the resurrection.  Rather, God invites us to hear the story and believe.

As followers of Christ today, we stand with the women at the tomb and ask, “Could it be true?  Could this good news be true?”  We may be afraid to let ourselves believe this good news.  And yet God calls us to take a leap of faith- to allow ourselves to hope, and to experience the joy.  This joy comes from knowing Jesus.    God tells us, “Do not be afraid.”  We are called to take a leap of faith and open our eyes to the evidence of the resurrection all around us.

Our story began early in the morning on the first day of the week.  And that story did not end in death- but new life.  And every Sunday, the first day of the week, early in the morning- for the last two millennia- Jesus’ followers gather to share the story of God’s love for the world.  Just as we gather today to share the story, to remember Jesus’ words: Do not be afraid, I am going ahead of you.  The message of hope and joy.  The hope of Easter is that death is not the end of the story.  Jesus defeated death- and was raised to new life.  The hope of Easter is ‘for you.’  God promises you new life in Christ.  A life of joy and love.  A life that continues with God beyond the grave.  A life that will unite us with those we have lost who are now with God.  That is the hope of Easter.

May you be filled with the hope and joy of Easter today, and every day. Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed! Amen.

Holy Last Supper, Reflection from Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Scripture: John 13:1-7, 31-35

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Someone blogging about Holy Week wrote this…  “Holy Week is not about pursuing happiness…  Holy Week is about surviving with a broken heart, and cherishing that brokenness, so that your life is transformed by it.”[1]  And here we are on Maundy Thursday- called Maundy for the Latin word mandatum- meaning commandment.  We remember the last night that Jesus spent with his disciples- and the new commandment that he gave them- to love one another.  And we realize that this commandment is for us here today as well.  We, who come with our wounds and brokenness and suffering, and hope to be transformed…  But as we are transformed we never truly let go of those wounds- but instead they become the scars that make us who we are.  Jesus’ disciples experienced this in his death.

There’s a beautiful hymn that speaks to cherishing that brokenness, “We hold the death of the Lord deep in our hearts, living, now we remain with Jesus the Christ.”

In Holy Week we acknowledge the suffering that Jesus endured and the painful grief of his disciples. As we think about this last supper where Jesus washed his disciples feet and gave them a new commandment we realize that he is about to die.  This intimate meal and time that he shares with his disciples is shadowed by Jesus’ impending death.  And Jesus understands this.  And maybe the disciples do too- even if only subconsciously.  They pay special attention to his teaching.  They wonder about some of the strange things that Jesus says.  They sensed the holiness of the moment as they spent this special time with Jesus.  And for the rest of their lives- they will remember it as significant.  In fact it will take on even more meaning after Jesus dies.  It will be a source of inspiration for them as they begin their ministry.

In my life I experienced a Holy Last Supper of sorts.  It was for my nephew Drew.  He was just 11 months old when he was diagnosed with brain cancer.  It was a rare and aggressive form of cancer.  And despite months of surgeries, chemo, and procedures- the cancer spread throughout his body.  After my brother and sister-in-law decided to stop treatment- the children’s hospital connected them with a group that granted wishes to cancer patients and their families- similar to the Make a Wish Foundation- which does this for older children.  At first Ben and Annie hoped to take Drew on a trip- some place warm.  His favorite activity was going for walks and they hoped it would bring him some comfort- but the doctors said he wasn’t able to travel.  So instead they decided to host a dinner in Drew’s honor for their immediate families.  So we all gathered together with our special guest of honor.  There were pictures taken, and memories shared, and laughter and smiles over Drew.  We feasted on a delicious meal and clinked our glasses.  It was a very special and intimate time that we shared together. Drew was still with us, so we feasted and celebrated his beautiful spirit.  Still the shadow of his illness was present.  When the evening ended the bitterness settled in and the goodbyes were heart wrenching.  It was the last time I saw little Drew.  And I will always hold that evening in my heart.  It reminds me of what a precious gift each day is- and how blessed my family was to have Drew in our lives, even for a short time.

Looking back I wonder if the disciples felt similar.  Jesus was with them in his ministry for a short time- only three years.  And yet he forever changed their lives and the course of history.  And in that last night together Jesus gave them a new commandment that really embodied the whole of his ministry and the time they had spent together- love.  Before he shares this commandment with them he gives an illustration.  As any great teacher knows, the best way to teach others is to model the lesson yourself.  And Jesus, God in flesh, stoops low to wash the feet of the disciples.  Their tired, achy, dirty feet…  He becomes the slave- to show how much he truly loves them.  And he shows them how to love each other.  This is how you are to love others, by kneeling before them in service.  Jesus allows the disciples to feel with their hands and feet this message of love.  They are able to taste and see God’s goodness in the meal they share together.

In Jesus’ last hours with his disciples- he shares this message of love.  It’s quite remarkable really.  Jesus does go into a rather lengthy good-bye speech.  But it’s interesting to note what he does NOT do.  Jesus doesn’t give them a list of instructions.  He doesn’t create a hierarchy of leadership- or name one person as his successor.  He doesn’t give them rules about how to live together or how they will go forward in their mission.  He tells them to love one another just as he loved them.

It doesn’t seem very practical- really.  I know moms who leave the house the house for an evening with longer instruction lists than what Jesus gives to his disciples.   And yet even with all of its impracticality- it makes an impression on the disciples.  They will always remember this evening with Jesus- and understand how truly precious it was.  It becomes their calling and their identity.  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And this command of love is our call too- it is our identity as Christians.  When we lose a loved one or experience a time of suffering in our lives- it never leaves us.  It becomes woven into the fabric of who we are.  And as Christians, the disciples’ memory of the Last Supper and the New Commandment become our memories too.  They become our suffering, and our passion, our brokenness.  And during Holy Week, we hold that suffering of Jesus deep in our hearts.  It becomes a living testament of God’s love for us.  It transforms us, into people who love deeply.  In Christ we survive with our broken hearts.  We cherish them because it means that we have truly loved others.   And we are transformed by the love of God that we know through the cross.  Amen.

[1] http://biteintheapple.com/beloved-a-maundy-thursday-reflection/

Holy Week, Holy Space

Next week is Holy Week, the heart of our church year.  Let’s take a minute and think about what the word holy means, to give us a better picture of what this week could offer us.

HOLY = Set apart

Holy Week = Time set apart for God

prayers around the cross candles

What does it look like to have time set apart in your life?  So many things get scheduled into our days: work, activities, and chores.  But what about time for your spirit?  Do we set aside holy time for things that fill us spiritually, perhaps walks, prayer time, reading, silence, devotional study? Holy Week is a time reorder your life around spirit time.  The week is ordered not by our normal activities alone, but by the story of Jesus’s love for us.  When we set aside special time for worship during holy week we are letting spirit time order our lives.  This is not only a personal thing, but a communal thing.  Many other people are making the same choice to reorder their lives around Jesus’ love.  Together, we join together to support one another and connect with each other.  We gather to hear the story of our faith- the story that gives us meaning and hope in our lives.

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The Story of the Week

During Holy Week we reflect on the last week of Jesus’ life starting with his procession into Jerusalem as the crowds cheered him on and shouted Hosanna- Save Now!  Palm Sunday

We worship with Holy Communion remembering Jesus’ last meal with his disciples and his final commandment for them to love each other as he loved them. Maundy Thursday

We reflect on the death of Jesus on the cross, and the great love with which Jesus laid down his life for all. Good Friday

Finally we celebrate that the grave could not hold Jesus- God has overcome death!  Christ is risen, and we as Christians are given new life in Christ! Easter Sunday

From glamorous glory- to heart-wrenching goodbyes- to the pain of the cross- to the fear and joy of new life- we hear the story of Jesus.  It is a story that is ‘for us, but not about us.’ It is for us, because it offers us all the love and forgiveness and grace that God has to offer in Christ.  But it is much, much bigger than a single person or even a single community.  It is about the world- the world that God loves.  This is the story of this great big love!  This is Holy Week.  Set aside time this week, to reorder your life around God’s love.  Give a gift to your spirit, and to your family by making holy space for worship and prayer.

In Christ’s abundant love-

Pastor Jamie

Sermon for Sunday, March 15th

John 3:14-21 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

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For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son

Today our scripture reading contains one of the most familiar verses in the Bible, John 3:16.  It is also a scripture that is at the core of our teaching of the Christian faith.  And yet we often forget that this verse comes in the middle of a story, in the midst of a conversation, a conversation that Jesus has with Nicodemus.

Nicodemus

Nicodemus is a seeker of sorts.  He is Jewish like Jesus, but he is not one of Jesus’ followers yet.  He comes to learn more about this crazy rabbi who is stirring the pot.  This rabbi who turns water into wine and overturned the tables in the Temple.  Yet Nicodemus comes at night.  Maybe he doesn’t want the rest of his religious Pharisee friends to know- after all he is a leader of the Jewish people.  After the scene that Jesus made in the Temple, I’m not surprised he comes to Jesus at night.This darkness gives us a hint that Nicodemus doesn’t quite get it.  He hasn’t been enlightened yet.  He doesn’t really know who this Jesus guy is even though he claims to.

So Jesus pushes him in their conversation a bit- maybe stumps him.  He says, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  Yes, that’s a tricky one.  And much to Nicodemus’ credit he doesn’t pretend like he gets it.  He has the courage to ask Jesus a question.  He has the courage to continue to seek Jesus in faith.  According to the Message paraphrase Nicodemus says this, “You can’t reenter your mother’s womb and be born again.  What are you saying with this born-again talk?”  Thank goodness!

No Jesus says, it’s not a physical rebirth- it’s a spiritual rebirth!

Then Jesus goes on to explain what God is up to- and why he came.  And we have one of the most central and well-known verses of our faith in this teaching.  Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”  For God so loved the world!  What a beautiful truth.  God loves the world!  Even those who don’t love God in return…  God loves all of the world- the entire cosmos as the Greek translation shows us.  Even those people who do not look like us… Even those people who do not think like us…  The world.  The world made up of: men and women, gay people, straight people, kids and babies and people of all ages, black people, brown people, white people, people of different religions, people of varying physical abilities- the entire kosmos.  Oh yeah and the plants and animals and ecosystems I suppose too.  The world.  God loves this world.

It may be an interesting spiritual exercise to put ourselves in Nicodemus’ place- or maybe even the church.

The church came to Jesus in the night.  She had seen Jesus’ work in the Temple and was a bit nervous to meet him in public.  After all, religion is sort of her thing- and Jesus really did a number on the Temple marketplace.  It seems Jesus is teaching that there is a new way to God now- not through Temple sacrifice- now open to ALL people.  God is on the loose in the world apart from organized religion.  The church wanted to get the inside scoop from Jesus. 

“Hi Jesus- I know you are from God,” the Church starts.  (She always has the right answers…)

“Oh you do.” Says Jesus.  “Well did you know that to see God’s kingdom you have to born from above?”

“Well not exactly.” Says the church.  She knows not she is obligated to ask a follow-up question- even though she really doesn’t want to at this point.  “What do you mean, Jesus?”

“You have to be born again.”

The church knows a thing or two about birth from her collective experience and she knows that it is not an easy process.  It is difficult, messy, and it rarely goes as planned. It requires a long pregnancy, and birthing pains, and it makes something new.  “Well Jesus, I DO want to see your kingdom, but I am also pretty happy right where I am.  I am comfortable here.  I know what to expect.  My big beautiful church building may be a little dark, but it’s very familiar.”

“You must be born again.  You must become something new.” Jesus says. 

“But Jesus, you don’t understand… The world out there- it’s a different place!  Its not like days when our buildings were full, when everyone just knew they should come to church and everyone respected me!  Maybe we can work to get back to that world.”

“To see the kingdom of God.  You must be born from above- you must be born again.”  Now hold onto your hats,” Jesus says, “Here is the reason why I came and here is the reason why you exist.” 

Now we are getting somewhere, the church thought.

For God so loved the world- for I so loved the world- that I came to be with this world that I love so much.  So I want you, too, to be with the world, like I did.  I want you to go out to the people and be with them, and love them, and care for them.  I want you to show them my love.  Don’t love the comfort of this dark sanctuary more than you love me.  Come, and gather and be fed and nourished in my love.  And then go to my people that I love so much and tell them.”

“Church, my love, I want you to be born again.”

Being born is such a miracle- isn’t it!  When I look at my own children, and the new babies that come to Rachel’s Place, I never cease to be amazed.  With God’s help we create these little people that are truly little miracles.  Two of the most memorable moments of my life where the moments when each of my babies were placed on my chest- after two very long and difficult labors.  To be born is a miracle- and to be born again, to be born from above- is also a miracle.  To step aside and let God work a new thing in us, a new thing in the church- to leave the past and comfort of our old habits behind and choose to walk with God into a new future- is scary.  But it is also where true life comes.  This new life with God is worth all of the labor pains.  In the light of Christ our live have purpose and meaning and love.  And after this spiritual rebirth- we can see the kingdom of God around us- found in the most unlikely of places.

Now back to Nicodemus.  What happens to him?  Jesus shares this amazing truth of God’s love with him, and yet we don’t see a response from him.  Nothing happens.  He doesn’t become on of Jesus followers on the spot.  We assume he goes back to his life and carries on normally.  Nothing happens immediately- but something does happen eventually.  The word of love that Jesus gives to him acts like a seed.  And with time it grows.  We see in chapter 7 that Nicodemus speaks up on Jesus’ behalf.  The other Pharisees want to arrest Jesus, but Nicodemus argues that he should at least get a fair hearing.  And finally at the end of Jesus life we hear this from the gospel writer,

“Nicodemus, who had first come to Jesus at night, came now in broad daylight carrying a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. They took Jesus’ body and, following the Jewish burial custom, wrapped it in linen with the spices. There was a garden near the place he was crucified, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been placed. So, because it was Sabbath preparation for the Jews and the tomb was convenient, they placed Jesus in it.”

Nicodemus does finally get it.  And its Jesus’ death, that helps him see this truth.  He comes in the light now because he recognizes that Jesus is the true light of the world.  And it is in Jesus’ death and resurrection that the Church gets it as well.  When we see the marks of cross on Jesus’ hands and feet- we see how deep the love of God for us is.  And we see how much God loves this world.  And we see how we are called to love that world.

May you remember this deep love that God has for you, and may it give you the courage to let your light shine for the world to see.

Empathy as God’s Love

 John 3:16- For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 

Check out this video:

Now I know the title of this video is Empathy. But for me, it sort of paints a picture of what love is like. Love comes down into the cave with you- just to sit with you in hard times. Love shares in your pain. And I think that’s the kind of love that Jesus talks about when he says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” God gave the only Son Jesus to enter into our world- our world of pain and suffering to be with us. That is the love that Jesus embodies. And as Christians that is the kind of love that we too are called to embody when we asked to love God and love our neighbors.

Video by Brene Brown

Sermon for Sunday, February 22nd

Mark 1:9-15

 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ 

The world today is going to hell in a handbasket…

Kids these days  do not know how good they have it…

All leaders and politicians are corrupt…

Violence is worse today than it ever has been…

It is easy to be cynical today, isn’t it?  Do you ever catch yourself repeating some of these phrases?

What does it take today, to believe in the good news? 

And this is not only true for adults.  Teens, middle school youth- do you ever catch yourself saying- “This is dumb.”…  “I don’t like that class, that person, that activity…”  It is easy to sit back and be critical.  A whole lot easier than it is to change ourselves, let alone change the world right?

Theodore Roosevelt has a powerful quote that came from a speech he gave that illustrates this point…

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. –Theodore Roosevelt

 

In our gospel reading today, Jesus preached a short sermon.  He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news?”

How do we take Jesus’ command to believe, or trust, in the good news of God, seriously?  How do we refuse to give into the temptation of cynicism and criticism? How do we become the peace of God that we want to see in the world?

We look at the verb that precedes this command.  Repent.  Repent and believe are both in the active imperative form- meaning that they are both commands from Jesus to those whom he was preaching to- and because we believe this word is a living word- to us.  We first need to repent in order to believe in the good news.

Repentance is something that we focus on in the season of Lent.  It is something central to our faith.  We need to repent, or turn away from our sin and turn to God, in order to be in relationship with God.  Repent can be described as turning in a new direction, and in the context of our faith it includes both a change of mind and heart- and a change in our actions.  I shared on Wednesday that it could also be seen as having a new perspective.[1]  Here we might say that this new perspective allows us to believe in the good news of Jesus.  Turn away from whatever keeps you from hearing and trusting this good news.  Turn toward Jesus.

When we first repent we are able to hear God’s good news.  We heard the good news in our first reading today.  (The end of the Noah’s Ark story.) The good news that God has made a covenant with all of creation- all living things, never to destroy the earth with a flood.  God’s covenant in this story is not a covenant in the sense of a treaty or pact- which is often what covenant meant.  Because in this story only one party has an obligation, and that is God.  This covenant is a promise- a promise God makes to all living things not to harm them.  The sign of the bow- which was once a sign of war- now becomes a sign of peace.  God’s bow of peace in the sky.

We need to look no further than the symbol of our Christian faith for the good news.  The cross.  Another weapon now becomes God’s symbol of peace.  In the cross, Jesus takes on the sins of the world, the suffering of all.  In the cross, Jesus hangs in solidarity with all of those who suffer unjustly.  In the cross- God reconciles the world, including each of us. God is with us in times of difficulty, in times of suffering, when we face temptation, when we are alone in the wilderness.  We are never truly alone, because God is with us.  And that is God’s good news.

When Jesus was baptized, a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.”  And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”  Here God’s good news exists alongside wilderness.  Jesus is the beloved son.  Jesus is also driven into the wilderness where he is tempted.  And even though Jesus is in the wilderness- he was not alone.  He, ‘was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.’ The promise of Jesus’ baptism sustained him during his time of trial.

And the same is true for you.  Jesus commands you to repent and believe in the good news of that God has come near- the good news that you are a beloved child, that you are forgiven, that the cross is for you, that God is with you even in times of wilderness.  And that promise will sustain you in difficult times.  That promise will also drive you to the things God calls you to do.

I believe God is calling us to turn in a new direction.  To resist the temptation to hear only the bad news and cynicism that this world can offer.  To resist the impulse to sit on the sideline as a critic.  But rather, to dare greatly in participating in God’s mission for the world, to participate in bringing God’s peace to this hurting world.

[1] Matthew Skinner, Working Preaching Podcast.

Photo credit: Bibleresources.americanbible.org

Sermon for Sunday, February 1st: We all have our demons

Mark 1:21-28

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21 They (the disciples) went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he (Jesus) entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

This church year is the year of Mark’s gospel.  We have read five stories from the book of Mark since our church year began in November, four from the first chapter.  And now we will be hearing from Mark for the next couple of weeks.  So let’s refresh Mark’s gospel.  The book of Mark is sixteen chapters long, around twenty five pages in a standard Bible.  It would be a great read if you are looking for a study or devotion to begin soon, or during Lent.

Mark begins the good news of Jesus Christ with the strange wilderness preacher, John the Baptist, ‘preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’  Jesus himself is baptized in dramatic fashion with the heavens tearing open and the Holy Spirit descending and the voice of the Lord declaring this is my beloved Son.  Then Jesus is driven to the wilderness where he is tested by Satan for 40 days and nights.  Immediately after overcoming this temptation, he calls the first four disciples.  And now today, he begins his public ministry with an exorcism in Capernaum.  Capernaum is in the region of Galilee, the region Jesus is from.  Right away, Mark is shows us that this Jesus is not the God we expect.  We expect God to be in heaven, and Mark tears open the heavens- and now heaven and earth are mixed up.  God has come near.  God’s entrance is dramatic and unexpected.  God has crossed the boundary from heaven to earth.  And that’s only the beginning of the boundary crossing for Jesus, God in flesh in Mark’s gospel.

His first act of public ministry as reported by mark’s gospel- casting out an unclean spirit…

Jesus is teaching on the Sabbath in the local synagogue, and right away we see that his teaching is different- he teaches with authority.  Although Jesus may not have any experience in ministry, I suppose this would be his first call…  he has authority.  He has the authority of the overcomer, who has just battled Satan in the wilderness and won.  He has the authority of God.  This authority is recognized by the unclean spirit, although strangely it will not be recognized by the scribes and religious folk and even his first disciples.  This talking spirit cries out, recognizing Jesus as the Holy one of God, and the spirit is afraid of his power.  As we studied this story on Wednesday night with our children, one of the teachers mentioned that the curriculum was too advanced for her group and she requested the youngest level, which worked well.  After all, exorcism is a bit disturbing for young children.  In fact, if you were not a little disturbed by this story, you must have missed the part about the talking unclean spirits, or demons as we could call them.

In fact it may cause us to wonder why we read this story in church, anyway.  After all, we live in a world that doesn’t talk about demons much.  Maybe because our worldview is less spiritual than that of the ancient world… Maybe because demons do not exist in the same way that did in Jesus’ time.  Maybe because we simply do not want to talk about it.Whatever the reasons… it simply seems easier not to go there.  And yet, it seems there are some powerful lessons we can learn from this story about Jesus casting out the unclean spirits.

This week, I attended a conference at Luther Seminary, entitled “religious but not spiritual?” with a question mark at the end.  For a while now some people more along the new age perspective have claimed to be, ‘spiritual but not religious’ because they wanted to distance themselves from religious institutions.  Some evangelical Christians also teach, it’s a relationship NOT a religion, in reference to Christianity.  Of course, there are valid reasons why people have wanted to distance themselves from religion.  And yet, as we examined this question at the Seminary- it became more apparent that we need both.  Spirituality connects us to God in a personal way.  And yet studies show that without a faith community in the form of religion, people do not sustain spirituality.  You can’t be spiritual alone.  You need a community of people to sustain you.

Nadia Bolz-Weber shared how the rituals, liturgy, and scriptures of our religion are truly the most meaningful parts of our faith.  These rituals give us space to hold life’s experiences….  Sorrow, heartache, angst, joy, love. She said that religion helps us find meaning in our difficult reality, rather than hide or escape from it.  At first glance, Pastor Nadia would seemingly be the last person you might expect to be sharing the beauty of religion.  With her arms covered in tattoos, her spiky hair, and swearing like a truck driver (sorry truck drivers!), she lives up to her twitter handle @sarcasticlutheran.  But when she talks about her congregation in Denver creating a shrine to honor the 150 children killed in their school in Pakistan- you begin to understand.  You begin to see that boundary-crossing-God from Mark’s gospel- right in front of you- God speaking through a woman, with tattoos, dropping the f-bomb- the sacred and the profane co-existing.

And if we are real enough to admit it- that is how the Christian life truly is.  As saints and sinners at the same time, we live in the beautiful, messy reality of this world that God created.  This world is not picture perfect- there is suffering and trials- right alongside our miracles and laughter.  Nor is our world black and white- and our scripture today reminds us of this.  We may not all have experiences with spiritual warfare, like Jesus did.  But metaphorically, we each have our demons that we battle.  And here is where the power of this passage comes into play for each of us.

We all have our demons…

Some of us, like Pastor Nadia suffer from addictions like alcoholism- she is a recovering alcoholic.  Other addictions plague us as well- overeating, shopping, nicotine, working too much, and many others.  Some of us suffer from mental illness in the form of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other forms of chemical imbalances.  Some of us battle inner demons of self-doubt, hatred, and never feeling good enough.  Still others have physical ailments that cause us despair.  All of these demons can taunt us telling us that we are not worthy of God’s love, of the love of other people, of self-love.  They want us to alienate ourselves- because that is where they have the most power over us.

And yet, Jesus has power over all of our demons.  Jesus has the authority to say, “Be silent.”  And when our demons are silent- we can hear the voice of God.  This voice says, “You are forgiven.  You are good.  You are loved.  You do not have to hide. I am with you.”  That is the gospel news.

Just last week here at Hope, we had some people share their stories of addiction and the affects of addiction in their lives at our confirmation class.  It was a bit risky- after all some people do not feel these subjects belong in church.  There are boundaries about what is acceptable to talk about- and what is not.  And yet, whether or not we talk about it- it exists.  And when we hide it, and when we keep silent- it allows the demons to have the power.

But when Jesus hears the demons in the synagogues, or in our case, our church- they stand no chance.  Compared with Jesus’ authority they are powerless.  And when people are gathered together in the beauty of Christian community sharing their struggles and their brokenness- suddenly it does not seem so hopeless- because we are not alone.   That’s the wonder and power of the religious life- it brings us together, together in Christ.

Sermon for January, 18th Epiphany 2: Come and See

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John 1:43-51

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Come and See

When Phillip found Nathanael, he tells him, “We have found him…. Jesus of Nazareth.”  We have found him.  And Nathanael questions.  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Phillip’s reply is not an explanation, or a debate.  Rather he shares three simple words in the form of an invitation.

Come and See

Because to truly know this Jesus, you cannot simply hear about him…  You cannot know facts about him.  You have to know him.  You have to experience the presence of God in Jesus for yourself.

Come and See

Today in our scriptures we see three call stories.  One of the young prophet Samuel from our Old Testament reading, and two apostles, Phillip and Nathanael, in our gospel reading.  In each of these stories we see that God if first moving.  God calls the prophet Samuel when he is just a boy, and he does not even recognize the voice of the Lord, because he does not yet know him.  But God had been working in Samuel’s life long before Samuel could be aware of it, long before he could choose to respond to God.  In fact, God had been working in his life before he was even born.  Samuel’s mother’s name was Hannah.  She was a faithful woman, but she was barren and could not have children.  It brought her a great deal of pain and unhappiness.  Her husband Elkanahhad two wives and his second wife had children and would, ‘taunt and provoke’ Hannah because she had none.  When they went to offer their sacrifice to the Lord at the Ark of the Covenant, Hannah prayed to the Lord.  She prayed for a son and vowed that if she conceived this son, she would give him to the Lord’s service.  The priest Eli hears her desperate prayers, and at first thinks she is drunk.  But soon, he realizes that she is simply pleading with God to grant her prayers and he takes pity on her and prays to the Lord that this prayer will be granted.

Hannah conceives and bears a son, and names him Samuel.  And when her child is weaned she is faithful to her vow and she brings him to the house of the Lord and presents him to Eli.  And instead of bemoaning her great sacrifice, Hannah sings a song of victory!  She tells of the faithfulness of God who, ‘raises the poor from the dust.”  Every year Hannah would make her son a little coat and bring it to him when they came to offer their yearly sacrifice.  Hannah went on to bear three sons and two daughters, and Samuel was raised in the Lord’s presence.  Samuel went on to be a just prophet and judge of the Lord, and eventually anoint the first two kings of Israel.

God was working in Samuel’s life before he was even aware of it.  God called Samuel first, and Samuel responded.  When God began calling Samuel, Samuel mistook the voice of God.  It took his mentor Eli to help him see that it was God’s voice.  Samuel had been responding, “Here I am.”  “Here I am.”  And yet, it seems this was not the response that God was looking for.  Rather, when Samuel responds, “Speak, Lord- your servant is listening,” God does speak.

God often calls us before we are even aware of it too.  God works in our lives before we make the conscious decision to have faith or become a Christian.  Look at our baptism.  In our church, we baptize babies along with children and adults.  Somehow we believe that God gives faith to that person who is baptized, even though they are unaware of it.  And the same is true with all baptisms and all lives of faith- God first calls us.  God gives us the gift of faith.  It is not a decision we make for ourselves.  It is not a work that we do.  Rather it is a gift.  The call of God is a gift.

And what is our response to God?  Maybe we can learn a lesson from the boy Samuel.  “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”  How are we taking time to listen to God in our lives?  What is God trying to tell us?  Personally and as a church?  In order to respond to our call from God, we first have to listen.  We have to pray and discern where God may be leading us.  We need to watch for the signs as we learned from our epiphany story where the wise men are led to the baby Jesus. Listening and watching for the rare and precious word of the God, is our response.

In our two call stories from John’s gospel, we see Jesus acting first.  Jesus decides to go to Galilee.  He finds Phillip.  He says, “Follow me.”  He seeks us and finds us too.  Jesus knows us even as we stand afar.  We all have a desire in this life to be truly know, and truly loved.  And we find that in our relationship with God.  God knows us completely- and loves us completely.  Part of Phillip’s call to follow Jesus is to bring others to Jesus.  He says to Nathaneal, “Come and see.”  And truly that is the call of every Christian- say, “Come and See.”  Come and see Jesus- this God who knows you and loves you.  What a gift we can offer to the world.

Come and See

There was once a time when it was sort of assumed that people in America would go to Church.  Maybe that’s the way that some of you grew up in the beginning to middle of the 20th century. Most people were Christian and most people were engaged in a faith community.  The truth is, that is no longer true today.  There are many competing viewpoints in our world.  There are many more things to do on a Sunday morning.  The world is different.  And evangelism was in many ways, simply an invitation to our church.  Come to us, come to our building.  But today, we have to think deeper about what it means to invite people to Come and See Jesus.  Because many people will never make it into a church building.  That is why we try to think of Church today more as a way of life and less as a building.  When we are serving at the community table and beacon house, we are saying, Come and See Jesus.  When we are packing kids meals so that kids at Sam Davey don’t go hungry on the weekends, we are saying Come and See.  When we give quilts to people all around the globe, we say Come and See.  When we welcome children and families here at Rachel’s Place we say Come and See.  When we go to El Salvador and participate in medical missions we say Come and See.    When we provide a safe space every week for groups like AA and Al-anon, we say Come and See.  When we embody God’s love, by loving the world- we say Come and See.

We love because God first loved us.  God called us first.  God gives us the gift of faith, and the gift of knowing Jesus.  Come and See.