Can you Believe what you just Saw?

On Sunday March 26, 2017, I had the privilege of being invited to preach and lead worship at Salem Lutheran Church in Superior, Nebraska. This congregation is part of the Heartland Shared Ministries, and in the afternoon I led a stewardship seminar for the combined partner congregations and the surrounding cluster. It was a joy to be with the congregation, and I look forward to their continued exploration about what it means to be a “shared” ministry.

The following is the manuscript I mainly preached from. It is based on the revised common lectionary readings appointed for the fourth Sunday in Lent, and is primarily based on John 9:1-41, and Psalm 23

Grace, peace, and blessings from our God who opens eyes, hearts, and minds to see, to know, and to love, Amen.

20170326_090220It is a great joy to be with you today. Thank you to Pastor Kathryn for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings from your 100,000 sisters and brothers that together with you, are the Nebraska Synod. I also bring greetings on behalf of Bishop Maas, Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Megan Morrow, and the entire synod staff.  I am excited to be with you for worship today and the workshop this afternoon. I am also excited to share some thoughts about our shared ministry together in the church, some ideas about stewardship, and to wonder with you a bit about what God might be up to.

Can You Believe What You Just Saw?
In terms of wondering… have you ever had one of those days where you couldn’t possibly believe what you were experiencing? Or what you were seeing?

I suspect that is what was happening with the people in today’s gospel story. In today’s story, a man who was born blind, through following Jesus’ instructions, is given sight. The people in the community can hardly believe it. Those who see it and try to make sense of it, are mad. How could this be possible? What’s going on here? “Clearly this is wrong,” the Pharisees or those in authority think, because it is not how things are supposed to go.

But as the blind man, who Jesus extends the call to be a disciple and follower of the way to, responds about Jesus and his acts on his (and perhaps our behalf), “I do not know whether he (Jesus) is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”[1]

The man who is given literal sight in this story, provides “an opportunity for God to act,” or for God to do what God does.[2] The gospel of John is filled with “I am” statements, describing who exactly this God in Christ is. Today we again hear Jesus proclaim, “I am.” “I am the light of the world.”[3] And as soon as he proclaims this, Jesus spits and makes mud. Seems kind of opposite of what we might first envision the light of the world looking like. But then we remember who this God of ours is. Someone who has come near, become one of us, has lived, died, and was resurrected for us, so that we might have life.

Still, I have to ask again, have you ever had one of those days where you couldn’t possibly believe what you were experiencing? Or what you were seeing?

20170326_133423
Look who I found? My boss, Bishop Brian Maas’ picture and story, on the shelves at Salem Lutheran in Superior.

About a year ago, I had such a couple of days. No one literally gained sight, but my heart and mind were definitely moved in ways I might not have been ready for or had expected.

My wife Allison and I are natives of the Pacific Northwest, and after getting married about seven years ago we moved to Minnesota for seminary and work. After about five years, Allison was sent out on the last part of her preparation for ordination, internship. We thought, hey this is awesome, we’re going back home to the Northwest. Just about 7 months later after moving back across country from Minnesota to Washington state, my wife Allison and I flew out to Nebraska for a quick trip. You see, it was about at this time where after receiving an email from a person I had never heard of, inviting me to have a conversation with a bishop I had never met, I heard about what God is up to here in Nebraska.

I heard an invitation to follow a calling to come and see, and to share about this synod- a synod full of generosity, love, and partnership for the sake of the world; one you’re each a part of here in Superior with the Heartland Shared Ministries and your mission share contributions which make the work of training and raising up new leaders and pastor, of supporting transforming and renewing ministries, and the many serving arm organizations that we are all partners with possible. There’s much more to this story, and I’ll pick it up in a bit.

Abundant Life through God in Christ
Today’s gospel story is part of a longer section which goes through all of John chapter 9, and much of chapter 10.[4] The man who gains his sight through Christ’s action, becomes one of the sheep Jesus describes in the following chapter who knows the shepherd’s voice and is one of the many of God’s children whom Christ has come so that, “we might have eternal life, and have it abundantly.”[5] [6]

Abundance, that’s a stewardship thing. But what might it mean?

The man today is made new through God’s action, much like we are made new through the water and the word in baptism. God shows up and acts, time and time again, for us. We don’t deserve this action, and cannot earn it, but God shows up because God cares, loves, and promises to be with us.

20170326_133157
One of the ways this congregation responds to the good news, is by contributing to their local food pantry.

The question then is, how do we live into this reality? How do we respond to this calling? How do we live joyfully because of all that God has done and continues to do for us?

God wants to be in relationship with us. God wants us to live fully and abundantly, which starts with recognizing we have a God who loves us, is with us, and wants to be with us. These are gifts- gifts of life, gifts of faith, and gifts of purpose.

Stewardship as Faith, Hope, and Grace in Action
Stewardship then is how we live in light of these promises, gifts, good news, and saving acts for us. This living is an active thing. Which is why stewardship is something broad, on-going, and part of our very identity as Children of God, and each of our relationships with our neighbors, loved ones, strangers, and even God’s own self. Stewardship, put another way, is faith, hope, and grace in action.

Jesus today was entrusted with the ability to give sight to a blind man. Jesus didn’t hoard that opportunity, rather, Jesus used it, even on a Sabbath day, so that God’s work could be done through him. Faith, hope, and grace, in action.

That was Jesus’ work in this story, and even though we might not be able to give literal sight to a blind person every day, we are entrusted with passions, stories, resources, money, talents, ideas, questions, vocations, and relationships through which God works through us to build up God’s kingdom. Through us, all that we have and all that we are, that which God has entrusted to our care to manage or steward, God does God’s work.

When you think about it that way, it’s awe-inspiring and perhaps overwhelming. How we live our lives through our vocations, choices of things we do and don’t do, show how we have been impacted by all that God has done for us. If we are so caught up in joy for these gifts of God that we cannot earn, but are perfectly free gifts, it stands to reason, that we’ll be so moved that we will not be able to hoard these gifts and keep them to ourselves, but want to share them extravagantly and radically like God.

Jesus, the Light of the World
At the same time, we recognize that life is not always easy. God wants to be with us, in the good, the bad, and the ugly of life. God wants to have the deepest of relationships, and we remember that with the psalmist today. “The Lord is my shepherd.”[7] Amen. But what impact does that have on us? “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” “I” or “we,” “shall not want.” Our needs are met in God- a God who restores, who leads us, who is with us, comforting and anointing, and we shall dwell with this God. A God, who also showed up to give sight to a blind man, proclaiming, “I am the light of the world.”

20170326_133136
The beautiful stained glass cross at Salem Lutheran in Superior, makes me think about Jesus, the “Light of the World.”

This isn’t a light of the world that our worldly ways might anticipate. This isn’t some grandiose politician riding in on a chariot or a Boeing 747, this is a light of the world that spits and creates mud with God’s own hands. This is a light of the world who gets on his knees and washes other’s feet. This light of the world is a light that we all remember in baptism. As “Jesus said, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life.”[8] Or, the command to live a life of faith, hope, and grace in action, to “let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”[9]

In today’s story, God bestows “grace upon grace.”[10] God doesn’t act as we might expect. God doesn’t prioritize who God will use or call as we might assign tasks to the smartest, strongest, or loudest. No, God’s grace is not something that can be counted and assessed. God’s “grace upon grace,” is how God’s economy works, an economy and stewardship that is different than our human created ones. [11]

The man today who is given sight, listened to God and did as God called. The man confessed belief, and worshiped. The man did, what I hope we all do, he worshiped and gave thanks because God had shown up. God has again given life, life for us, a life so extravagant and abundant we could not even imagine.

This life is made possible of course through God’s saving acts of the cross, we remember on our Lenten journey.

Now What? The Rest of the Story
But this life is not always an easy one. I promised you more of my story, so here you go.

When my wife and I came to Nebraska for that couple of days last year, from the Pacific Northwest, we sensed, we saw, and we were amazed. We sensed God at work. But we knew that also meant change. We cried some, knowing we would be moving once again from our extended families and loved ones in the Northwest. But, as we saw, heard and experienced with our own eyes, hearts, and minds in Nebraska, we knew we wanted to be a part of it. We were being called here. And so, here we are. I as a deacon, serving as Director for Stewardship for the Nebraska Synod, sharing all about stories of ministry in action from across this wonderful state; and Allison as a first call pastor at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle. To be a part of the ministry of 245 congregations, 13 serving arms, and telling the story of God at work is a life of pure joy for me.

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A fitting reminder on the walls at Salem in Superior.

This life that we all lead as disciples, stewards of God’s love and mysteries, and followers of Christ, is a life of calling, purpose, and vocation. When we are found, like the man in today’s story, we would also then be wise to expect to be sent out. The disciples were all sent out, and so are we, each week at the end of worship to our various daily lives, to live out the Good News and share that through God, “all have life and all have it abundantly.”[12] We do this through our words and actions. We do this by extending God’s invitation to all, to invite the world to come and see what God has done and God continues to do. [13]

All of this is a gift. It’s good news. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way, to allow God to work through us, to use us, and for us to go about the work of living lives of faith, and stewarding all that God has given and continues to give. I wonder if that’s really what the problem was for the Pharisees? Jesus broke the rules of their expectations, so that couldn’t possibly be okay. It’s a good reminder, that God isn’t beholden to our human understanding, and self-created rules for good order. When we are, stubborn and hold to an “our way or the highway” mentality, perhaps we refuse to believe, and by doing so, we’re blind to our own sin?[14]

Even so, God still shows up to do the work to open our eyes, hearts, and minds. God calls us to see all that God has done, to feel and share the Light of the World with our sisters and brothers, and to know so deeply that God loves us, is with us, and is for us. Amen.

—————————————————————-

Notes, References, and Citations:

[1] John 9:25, NRSV.

[2] Obrey M. Hendricks, in The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, Michael D. Coogan, ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 164 New Testament.

[3] John 9:5, NRSV.

[4] Karoline M. Lewis, Lutheran Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2009), page 1770.

[5] Ibid.

[6] John 10:10, NRSV.

[7] Psalm 23:1, NRSV.

[8] “Holy Baptism,” in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 231.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Karoline Lewis, “On Being Found,” 19 March 2016, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4843.

[11] Inspired by Karoline Lewis, “On Being Found,” 19 March 2016, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4843.

[12] John 10:10, NRSV.

[13] Karoline Lewis, “On Being Found.”

[14] Inspired by Obrey Hendricks, 165 New Testament.

Faith Like Abraham- Stewarding God’s Promises, Seen and Not Seen

On Wednesday March 15th, I was invited to lead worship and preach at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Valley, Nebraska. For their mid-week Lenten series, they are reflecting about people of faith, and the focus for the evening was on Abraham. I was invited to preach on Hebrews 11:1, 8-22, and to share thoughts about stewardship. What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from. 

Grace and peace from our God, the God of Abraham, who knows you, claims you, and loves you, Amen.

It is a great privilege to be with you this evening, and I bring greetings from your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ across the Nebraska Synod, from Bishop Maas and Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Juliet Hampton, and from the whole synod staff. Thank you to Pastor Barbara for the invitation, and to all of you for your warm welcome. I am excited to be with you this evening, and to think together a little bit about having faith like Abraham, stewardship, and what God might be up to here.

Father Abraham- a man of faith
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…”

If there was ever a person of faith who rested in the hope and convictions of God’s promises without necessarily seeing them to their fulfillment, it was Abraham. Abraham, the great father of Israel, the man of faith from whom three different faiths trace their lineage, is a man of faith who sometimes doubted and sinned, just like us, but who trusted in God.

Abraham received the land as an inheritance. Abraham journeyed not knowing where he was going, but trusted that God was present and leading him. He believed that he and his future descendants, as hilarious of a thought as that was at his and Sarah’s age, were heirs of the promise. When Sarah gave birth to Isaac, much of Abraham’s doubt about who this God is was washed away. All human understanding of how things are supposed to work went out the window with that experience.

sanctuary
The beautiful sanctuary at St. Mark’s, before worship with “Holden Evening Prayer.”

God invited Abraham to look to the stars, and pointing to the vast infinity of them said, “so shall your descendants be.” Infinite. Beautiful. Unique. Scattered. Signs of hope. The same stars that are made of star dust, the dust and ash much like we are all born of, and will return to someday as we remember on our Lenten journeys this season.

But we also know, and trust with Abraham, that God is our God. God has prepared a place for us at the heavenly banquet. And God has raised his own son from the dead, and promises us the hope of such resurrection, and abundant life.

To be honest though, I have always thought Abraham must have been a bit crazy. But since you heard about Noah last week, I imagine everybody thought Noah was crazy too for thinking it would rain and to build such an ark. But Abraham, trusted God even to the point of nearly sacrificing Isaac? I honestly don’t think I could do that. And thankfully, God did not allow that to happen, nor ever asked again for such ridiculous sacrifice except perhaps from God’s own self.

What’s this got to do with Stewardship?
What I love about Abraham most though is his stewardship. Before I say more, I need to probably define stewardship. Stewardship is an idea that some people think has to do only with money, well, friends as the Director for Stewardship, I have the opportunity to set the record straight. Yes, stewardship has to do with money, but it also has to do with so much more.

giving tree
One of the ways that St. Mark’s practices stewardship is through a giving tree like this, meeting community needs that have been identified, year round.

If we believe as Children of God, that all that we have and all that we are, are gifts from God, then stewardship is really about how we use all that we have, and all that we are in response to God’s good gifts, and promises. Put another way- our health, our bodies, our ideas, our dreams, our hopes, our stories, our questions, our money, our time, our passions, our talents, our treasures, our vocations, the beautiful creation that is all around us, and our relationships are all part of our stewardship- as we steward all that we are and all that we have; and recognize that these things have all been entrusted to our care to manage or steward by God. Stewardship then is about our response to all that God has done and continues to do for us.

In Abraham’s case, how did Abraham respond to God’s promises and covenant? How did Abraham respond to the gift of the birth of a son, Isaac?

Legacy
Abraham, like many people, was concerned about legacy. Legacy is a stewardship thing. How do you want to be remembered? What do you want to be remembered for? What impact or story do you hope inspires those who come after you?

Although at his age, Abraham probably had come mostly to terms with the fact that he wouldn’t have any descendants, he still likely pondered what kind of legacy he would leave. However, when given a promise of descendants, he would misunderstand or take it upon himself to do something about this, and hence, he would go to Hagar, and Ishmael would be born. Even with this, God still loved Abraham and fulfilled the promise of descendants. Through Isaac and Ishmael both God would make Abraham’s descendants like the stars, beautiful, unique, and scattered. This is quite the legacy, to have so many descendants, who are signs and part of the promise God made with Abraham in the covenant.

Promises- Stories, Sharing, and Faith
The way Abraham lived his life… through his faith in action, also said something about his stewardship. He wasn’t afraid to share of his faith in God with those he met. He did so, because he trusted the promises God made with him, so this was another way that Abraham lived out his faith, and stewarded it. I wonder, how does the way you live your life show how the good news and promises of God have impacted you?

Thanks
Though it’s never directly mentioned in Genesis, I believe that Abraham was grateful for all that God has done. I imagine he was a man filled with great thanksgiving to God for living 175 years of abundant life, full of mystery, unexpected adventures, and faithful journeying, I believe Abraham died a man thankful for the covenant and relationship he knew with God. And as much as asking and telling the story are crucial parts of a life of stewardship, obviously thanking and living a life of gratitude is equally a part of it.

Invitation to God’s Promises- What does this mean for us?
So, like a good Lutheran, I have a question. What does this mean? What does this mean for us today, here at St. Mark’s? What does this mean in this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation?

pizza prep
There were about 10-12 pizza spinners going, cooking pizza for dinner. Add in the amazing salads, desserts, and even the non-alcoholic strawberry daiquiris… I was impressed! (First ever church I have been to where they served daiquiris, let alone with a Lenten dinner. Fantastic!)

Not only do I think Abraham in this case is an example for us, of what faith in action and depth looks like. I think he is an example of one of God’s stewards, a steward of the mysteries, love, and promises of God.

Since moving to Nebraska last fall, and in my first year in this call as a deacon in the church, serving as the synod’s Director for Stewardship I have seen and heard stories of congregations filled with great generosity, of stewards who know that they have unique callings and passions to respond to the needs of the world. They do so, out of joy and gratitude for all that God has done and continues to do- like for Abraham, providing life, hope, and purpose. And as we know through Christ, in our Lenten journey, providing hope, resurrection, and life eternal and abundant.

I have been struck by the way congregations support the work of the larger church through their Mission Share contributions which go to support building up new leaders and pastors, like your own wonderful pastor, Pastor Barb Oshlo. These contributions also make other work of the church possible, such as the work of the church’s many serving arms like Mosaic, Lutheran Family Services, and Lutheran World Relief; as well as the creation of new, transforming, and redeveloping ministries, sensing that God is up to something and feeling called to be a part of God’s on-going work in the world.

Summing it all Up
Abraham was impacted in ways that even he could not have imagined by God’s promises. We too are impacted by the promises of God, of a God who has come near to us, and meets us where we are, out of love for us. This love leads us out from here into the way we live our lives, and meet our neighbors. This love guides us forward, like it did Abraham in faith, not knowing where we might always be going but trusting, that in our journey, God is with us, leading us, and supporting us, as stewards God has called and entrusted with this work.

dinner time
Some of the many faithful gathered at St. Mark’s. Thank you all for the invitation, conversation, fellowship, service, and hospitality.

Thank you for being a part of this work, and for journeying faithfully hand-in-hand with your sisters and brothers across this synod, the larger church, and all around the world. To close, let us pray.

Journey prayer
O God, you have called your servants like Abraham to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils and joys unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

pig tree
One more picture, which I have to include. This spring’s noisy offerings at St. Mark’s are going to “buy pigs” through ELCA Good Gifts. So of course, there would have to be a “Pig Tree,” in the narthex. Awesome stewardship!

Let’s be a John 3:17 People! – A stewardship sermon

This weekend (March 11th & 12th), I had the joy of visiting First Lutheran Church in Kearney, Nebraska. Pastor Sylvia Karlsson invited me to come, preach, and visit, as part of the congregation’s stewardship season of focus during Lent. Over the course of the weekend, I preached the following sermon, visited with many different people, and also had a fun evening of a barbecue stewardship dinner filled with conversation and questions and answers with me. What follows is the manuscript that I mainly preached from. The sermon was based on the congregation’s stewardship focus from Ephesians 4:1-16, and the appointed gospel passage from the revised common lectionary for the second weekend of Lent, John 3:1-17. If you would like to listen or watch this sermon, the 11:00am service was recorded and can be viewed including the sermon here

Grace and peace from our God who created you, calls you, claims you, loves you, and is with you. Amen.

It is a great joy to be with you today here in Kearney. Thank you Pastor Sylvia for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings on behalf of your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ from across the Nebraska Synod, from Bishop Maas, and the whole synod staff, and even from my friend and colleague Deacon Connie Stover, a member of this great community here. I am excited to be with you and to help think about what God might be up to here, and how we’re stewards of all that God entrusts to us- all that we have and all that we are.[1]

Stewardship Theme: Ephesians 4:4-6
The stewardship theme that you have chosen from Ephesians 4 is one that is all about unity. We each have unique gifts, passions, ideas, identities, stories, and vocations. But we are brought together in the one Body. Paul writes, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”[2]

kids bells
The Youth Handbell Choir sharing their gifts of music as part of the prelude.

The word “all” shows up four times, just in this verse alone. This is something that the apostle Paul is trying to get through to the people of Ephesus. The church, the Body of Christ, is dependent upon all- all of us, all our neighbors, everyone. We all have a role to play. We all have purpose, and we all matter. Looking around the world, that’s a message and story that needs to be told today, perhaps more than ever.

So, what are we to do about this? How can we tell this story, one that Jesus starts to paint a picture of, for Nicodemus today? “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. 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.”[3]

This is a pure gift! The question then is, what is our joyful response to this gift of life? How do we live? The answer has everything to do with stewardship.

What It Means to be a Steward
Stewardship is not just about money, though that’s certainly a part of it. It’s about asking for people to give, and to contribute out of response to the good news and promises of all that God has done for you and continues to do.

40 days
One of the ways that First Lutheran is practicing stewardship during Lent is by engaging with curriculum developed by ELCA World Hunger, and supporting this ministry through weekly noisy offerings among other ways.

Stewardship is about thanking God and thanking people, living a life of gratitude and joy. On that note, thank you for the invitation, and for all the many ways you each serve in your vocations, daily lives, and as partners in ministry in this place, in this community of Kearney, as part of the Nebraska Synod, the ELCA and the larger church. Your partnership in this, as part of the synod, and through your mission share contributions makes the work of the church possible: through sharing resources to prepare and raise up new leaders; through helping those in need by responding to disasters and world hunger, and supporting the work of the many serving arms of the church like Lutheran Family Services, Mosaic, and Lutheran World Relief to name a few; and in spreading the good news of a God who has come near, through supporting new and transforming ministries.

Stewardship is also about telling the stories of how God is at work, and how, whether we recognize it or not, we are part of that work, and it’s beautiful and important work, that I have the joy in my role as Director for Stewardship of getting to remind you all about.

God uses us- all that we have and all that we are, to bring about God’s kingdom and do God’s work in the world. How we respond to the good news- by the way we live our lives joyfully, abundantly or in scarcity, help shows how we have been impacted by the good news. The choices we make, the things we do or don’t do, they are all reflections of how we steward ourselves- all of what makes each of us who we are- our time, our bodies, our health, our dreams, our questions, our ideas, our vocations, our hopes, our stories, our relationships. That’s what stewardship is about.

It’s a deep thing. It’s a big part of our identity as Children of God, and as some have said, it might well include everything we do after hearing the Good News of God, good news we heard again today, and good news and reminders of God’s promises we will celebrate again through a simple meal in a few moments.

stewardship dinner
Some of the many wonderful people who came and enjoyed the stewardship dinner at First Lutheran, served and sponsored by the congregation’s stewardship team.

In this time of change, worry, and fear for many, we must be stewards of God’s love to all of God’s people. We must be a John 3:17 people. “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”[4]

This is the gospel to the core- the gift of God for all the children and people of God, all of whom God has created, all of whom God calls, claims, and loves. God wants to be in relationship with God’s people. And God in Christ comes as one of us, to be with us, and through Him, to save us so that we may all live, and live life abundantly.

That’s what we remember during this season of Lent in our journey to and through the cross. That’s also the good news my friends. But it’s news we need to be sharing and we are called to share. But how?

Vocations & Our Response
What we do matters. What we do isn’t about saving ourselves or anyone, that’s God’s good gift and promise. But what we do matters in the sense that it is our joyful response to the good news, gifts, and promises of God. How do we live our lives? How do we love those around us, living out our unique and diverse callings?

Let me put this another way.

The Blowing Winds of Nebraska & the Movement of the Spirit
In talking to Nicodemus, Jesus paints a beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit. It’s one that takes on extra meaning here in Nebraska when we think of the way the wind blows. I mean just this last week, living in the parsonage in rural Fontanelle northeast of Fremont where my wife serves as pastor at Salem Lutheran there, our house lost power a couple times because of the wind whipping out of the south and then the west and north.

Jesus says, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”[5]

We believe in a God who is on the loose, present everywhere, and up to something. What God is up to, can sometimes be a great mystery to us. It usually involves lifting people up, spreading love, purpose, hope, joy, and sharing the good news of God’s promises through love and action. God the Holy Spirit moves like the wind, in ways that are uncontrollable. We can’t make God do what we want. We can’t put God in a box, or treat our prayers like that of someone with wishes for a Genie in a bottle. That’s not a real relationship. God wants to be with us, in the good, bad, and ugly of life. And when we are open to it, just as the Holy Spirit moves and blows like the wind, we too can be moved in ways we might never expect and to lands we might never have imagined. I think all of our stories might be good examples of this.

A Bit of My Story of the Spirit’s Movement
For example, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I met my wife in college, and we fell in love. After I did a master’s program in California, we got married and a week later moved to seminary in Minnesota. No rational person goes about life like this. I mean, I had had planned my whole life ahead, I would keep going to school, get a PhD and then maybe after that start dating at that point. God had other ideas, much better than my own, I might add. After five years in Minnesota, we went back to Washington for Allison to do her internship, the last part of her preparation before ordination. We figured, hey, we’re going home to the northwest…

Then a funny thing happened. God nudged me in the form of an email from a person I had never heard of to have a phone conversation with a bishop I had never met. A month later I was on a quick trip to Nebraska to see this state I didn’t know much about in person with my own eyes. Tears were shed on that trip, tears of knowing that we would be leaving our extended families again, but we also knew, through our hearts, minds, and souls, that God was up to something and we were being led here to this beautiful and wonderful state and this awesome synod which we are all a part of in this church.

God in the Holy Spirit moves in ways which we often can’t explain, and in ways that defy our human logic or best planning. But that’s a part of what it means to be a Follower of Christ, and honestly, to be a steward.

Called Together for the Sake of Our Neighbor
God calls us together. God gifts us with purpose, and entrusts us with unique callings and responsibilities. But each of these, is not just for ourselves, or for God alone. They are for each other, for our neighbors both locally and far away. We have a God who calls us into relationships. That means at times we will disagree, perhaps fight or mess-up, because we’re in community and relationships. We’re human after all. But through God, there is hope of reconciliation through God’s love, and the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”[6]

heavenlytreblemakers
Best choir name ever, “Heavenly Treble Makers.” Beautiful singers. Thank you for all sharing and stewarding your musical gifts.

In times like this, we are called more than ever to truly be this one body for the sake of the world- to share, to love, to do, to tell, and to serve. God’s done the hard work already of overcoming death through Christ. Now it’s our turn to go about the work of being a steward of God’s love, responding to the good news, promises, and gifts of God’s saving acts for us. It’s our turn, our calling, our duty, and our joy to be a part of the beautiful, unique, and diverse Body of Christ, which together can provide community, hope, healing, and reconciliation to a hurting and broken, yet very beautiful and wonderfully made world.

This is not easy work. But it’s the most important work. And together, we go about it, each serving in our various ways, called to it by our God who loves us, is with us, and is for us. Amen.

____________________________________

Notes, Resources, and References

[1] I’m especially excited to be here because Pr. Sylvia was one of the first people I met last year shortly after accepting this call to serve in Nebraska. In addition to serving as your transition pastor, Pr. Sylvia is the chair for the Nebraska Synod Stewardship Table. I met that group virtually for the first time through the wonders of the internet last April, even before I began working for the synod, and I knew then and there what a great team I was going to be a part of. I am grateful for their leadership, especially as they have welcomed me to this exciting role as the Nebraska Synod Director for Stewardship.

[2] Ephesians 4:4-6, NRSV.

[3] John 3:16-17, NRSV.

[4] Inspired by Karoline Lewis, “John 3:16,” “Dear Working Preacher,” 5 March 2017. Within this, Karoline writes, “the sweeping claim of John 3:16 without 3:17 has in our general parlance become that which justifies damnation for unbelievers, perpetuates our myopic musings about God, and validates our hubris. Rather than signal God’s desire to be in relationship with all people, this verse has become a weapon…”

[5] John 3:8, NRSV.

[6] Ephesians 4:3, NRSV.

International Women’s Day #Instruct

As part of my Lenten journey this year, I will be blogging daily using the themes or words created by the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin in partnership with other ELCA synods for “Lent Photo a Day.” The word for today, March 8th, is “Instruct.”

I am doing something different today. Instead of a theological or biblical devotion, I am simply going to stand in solidarity with all of the women in my life, and remind or instruct myself about all of these important women.

On this International Women’s Day, or Day Without Women, I am wearing red. I am also going to use the following post to share just a sampling of a list of some of the women who have had and/or continue to have an impact on me by their leadership, friendship, mentorship, collegiality, and willingness to listen and be in conversation with me and others. It is long past due that all women receive full equal rights, equal pay, equal respect, and equal authority.

If the world did not have the following women, I would not be who I am today, and for all of you, and the many more not listed here, thank you, and know that I am with you as an ally, friend, and colleague.

women 1
Some of the strong women in my family.

Rev. Allison Siburg
Tricia Siburg
Tamara Siburg
Jakki Parks
Maria Harwell
Melba Tengesdal
Joan Siburg
Dr. Margo Holm
Dr. Lynn Chandler
Dr. Joan Rogers
Natalie Holm
Joanne Parks
Dr. Barb Tengesdal
Britta Tengesdal
Lisa Tengesdal
Pat Jackson
Kristin Jackson
Suzy Siburg
Holly Jenkins
Amanda Siburg

women 2
More of the amazing women in my family

Elizabeth Bateman
Kristin Bateman
Kath Bateman
Erin Parks
Carla Parks
Becca Padrick
Anna Padrick
Tracy Padrick
Dorothea Tenney
Elaine Vangerud
Rev. Nancy Victorin-Vangerud
Mary Vangerud
Heather Vangerud
Sharon Tenney
Diane Schori
Karla Tengesdal
Sophie Ommedahl
Myra Johnson
Myrna Stanton
Nancy Land
Rev. Alison Shane
Dr. Terri Elton
Rev. Dr. Mary Sue Dreier
Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis

dr. marit
Allison and I with Dr. Marit Trelstad, one of our favorite professors from PLU, whom taught one of the more influential classes for me, “Feminist, Womanist, & Mujerista Theology”

Dr. Marit Trelstad
Dr. Lynn Hunnicutt
Dr. Karen Travis
Dr. Brenda Ihssen
Dr. Priscilla St. Clair
Dr. Patricia O’Connell Killen
Dr. Jean Lipman-Blumen
Dr. Amy Marga
Dr. Lois Malcolm
Dr. Deanna Thompson
Rev. Karen Stevenson
Rev. Juliet Hampton
Rev. Megan Morrow
Stephanie Lusienski
Diane Harpster
Lisa Kramme
Michele Herrick
Sandy Terry
Rev. Rebecca Sheridan
Rev. Rebecca Sullivan
Rev. Amanda Ullrich
Rev. Kaitlyn Forster
Carrie Gubsch
Andi Mandrick
Rev. Emmy Kegler
Rev. Jill Rode
Deacon Connie Stover
Deacon Peggy Hahn
Deacon Beth Hartfiel
Chris Hicks
Vonda Drees
Lynn Willis
Joanne Erickson
Elise Erickson
Svea Erickson
Sylvia Cauter
Emily Cauter
Susie Soine
Karen Byrd
Kerrie Byrd
Carol Zach
Carol Peterson
Ursula Alexander
Carin Nelson
Lynn Rupp
Debbie Collier
Christie Lofall
Mrs. Tobin
Mrs. Bryant
Mrs. Hamlin
Mrs. McLaughlin
Mrs. Harmon
Mrs. Smith
Mrs. Youngquist
Sharon Ferguson
Mrs. Davies
Mrs. Webster
Mrs. Piper
Mrs. Olson
Mrs. Bale
Mrs. Overby

plu
Some of our many friends who gathered with us on our wedding day from PLU. Look at all of those great leaders, people, and especially the sheer number of amazing women.

MaryAnn Anderson
Kristen Lee
Rachel Danforth
Jamie Lindberg
Louise Rose
Andrea Goddard
Kim Skelly
Katie Oost
Mallory Ferland
Kristen Sprague
Ella Sanman
Kellie Kuntz
Ariana Stinson
Nicole Perigard
Stacy Davis
Allison Ryan
Dr. Jenny Darroch
Dr. Sarah Smith-Orr
Dr. Katharina Pick
Dr. Lois Farag
Dr. Susan Heinrich
Dr. Mary Hess
Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda
Marcia Shetler
Senator Patty Murray
Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn
Dr. Elizabeth Goldsmith
Kim Parker
Hannah Heinzekehr
Deacon Julia Nelson
Margaret Ellsworth
Cori Jo Duncan
Holly Wright
Jacklyn Henly
Kristin Tranby
Jody Thone
Kim Pleticha
Rev. Siri Erickson
Mary Struwve
Nancy Giddings
Deb Meyer
LuAnn Olson
Kelly Simon
Jessica Potts
Joy Studer
Connie Howard
Deacon Julie Bracken
Janet Borst
Rev. Kathy Braafladt
Rev. Melanie Wallschlaeger
Allison Ramsey
Karen Pickering
Presiding Bishop, Rev. Elizabeth Eaton

sem
Some of my closest friends from seminary- confidants, co-conspirators, cheerleaders, dreamers, and doers.

Rev. Emily Wiles
Rev. Katie Emery
Rev. Beth Wartick
Grace Duddy Pomroy
Jody Meyer
Angie Moeller
Heather Ruwe
Shirley Kocher
Katherine Ostlie
Jennifer Olson-Kringle
Sara Garbers
Rev. Michelle DeBeauchamp Olafsen
Alice Olson
Annie Romstad
Judy Hedman
Myrlette Giddings
Sheryl Jacobsen
Tisa Zachau
Kari Osmek
Kris Bjorke
Rev. Diane Roth
Rev. Sarah Cordray
Rev. Sarah Ruch
Rev. Sheryl Kester-Beyer
Rev. Sylvia Karlsson
Heather Hanson
Mary Ann Peterson
Joanne Hinckle

Obviously, I could keep going, and this is only a few people, but it’s a sampling of some of the countless women who have had and/or continue to have an impact on me. If it weren’t for these people, and many others not named here, I would not be who I am.

Who would you be without the women in your life? 

As we continue together our journey through Lent to the cross, join me in pondering these questions, and join the #LentPhotoaDay adventure through images and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels. 

How might we show the #Fruit of the Spirit?

As part of my Lenten journey this year, I will be blogging daily using the themes or words created by the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin in partnership with other ELCA synods for “Lent Photo a Day.” The word for today, March 7th, is “Fruit.”

20170307_092938
An apple, a glass of water, and some great books on the book shelf. Good fruit to start the morning in my office.

Did you grow up hearing the adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away?”

I’m not sure I ever believed that, but as I think back to a year living in California where I probably had my best balanced diet and did my most walking ever, I could see the merit in it. I did in fact nearly have an apple a day that year, and I was hardly ever sick. So, maybe there is a correlation?

In thinking of apples and fruit today, I am thinking about the fruit of the spirit.

The apostle Paul writes,

“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” – Galatians 5:22-26, NRSV.

Sometimes you might hear these fruits and think of someone as a passive, mild, and meek individual. Perhaps they are. But “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” are not always easy things, and often they require more action, strength, courage, and leadership than we might expect.

I suspect that this year will be such a year where these fruits will require more action than many of us are used to. Are we up for the task with God’s help?

To put it another way, ponder these questions with me:

  1. Are we up to the task and calling to show love to all people, no matter if we agree with them at all times or not?
  2. Are we able to find joy, like the joy of a child in our life, joy in God’s gift and promise of abundant life?
  3. Are we able to center ourselves in the assurance of the peace that surpasses all understanding?
  4. Will we strive to be patient with those we live, love, and serve with, as well as those whom we are in relationship with?
  5. Are we able to show kindness to all, especially those marginalized, victimized, living in fear of decisions and potential decisions being made that could turn life upside down or worse?
  6. Are we willing to be generous at all times because God is generous?
  7. Will we be faithful by: living among God’s faithful people, hearing the word of God and sharing in the Lord’s supper, proclaiming the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, serving all people following the example of Jesus, and striving for justice and peace in all the earth?
  8. In all that we do, will we strive to live gently with those around us, working to reconcile and strengthen relationships?
  9. Will we exercise self-control to the best of our abilities?

These are lots of questions, and I’m not sure that I could answer all of these in the affirmative. But perhaps they are helpful in light of centering ourselves this season of Lent, and in living out our baptismal callings and vocations as Children of God?

However you answer these questions inspired by the fruit of the spirit, know that we are in this together as Children of God, called, created, and loved by a God who knows us better than we know ourselves.

Let us close today’s reflection with a prayer often heard following baptism or the affirmation of the congregation:

We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give us new birth, cleanse us from sin, and raise us to eternal life. Stir up in your people the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.

As we continue together our journey through Lent to the cross, join me in pondering these questions, and join the #LentPhotoaDay adventure through images and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels. 

References: Question 7 was taken from the affirmation of baptism liturgy along with the closing prayer, found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), pages 236-237.

From Where Shall My #Help Come

As part of my Lenten journey this year, I will be blogging daily using the themes or words created by the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin in partnership with other ELCA synods for “Lent Photo a Day.” The word for today, March 6th, is “Help.”

The psalms are filled with cries for help and songs of pleading for deliverance. Here are just four examples, three from the psalmist and one from the Lord:

Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your name’s sake.” – Psalm 79:9. 

Help me, O Lord my God; save me according to your steadfast love.” – Psalm 109:26.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?” – Psalm 121:1. 

“‘Because the needy are oppressed, and the poor cry out in misery, I will rise up,’ says the Lord, ‘and I will give them the help they long for.'” – Psalm 12:5.  

As I think about what it means to help, I am struck by how much we all need help. These verses above illustrate just some of the ways we need God’s help. We can’t deliver ourselves. We can’t forgive our own sins. We can’t save ourselves. And often, we really can’t save ourselves from ourselves.

From where shall my help come?

olympics
On a cloudy day on the afternoon after I was consecrated as a deacon in Poulsbo, the Olympic Mountains are starting to break through the clouds.

Inspired by Psalm 121, I have always thought of this passage with the images I had growing up, going to school and being able to see the beauty of the Olympic Mountains in one direction, and often Mount Rainier in a different direction. I guess that might be the benefit of having grown up in Washington state where there aren’t just hills, but mountains.

Perhaps the illustration lacks effect in places without mountains, but hopefully it illustrates the notion of seeing something grand, majestic, and bigger than ourselves. At the same time, this bigger and majestic hill or mountain, can be daunting or frightening to climb or travel across, only possible through God’s help or deliverance.

In what ways are you feeling that you, or others you know, need help right now?

rainier
Mount Rainier as I saw it from my plane last fall on a flight from Seattle to Omaha.

When we come together as people, we can do a lot of good to help one another as God calls us to do.

But when close ourselves off from community, build walls and hide behind them, and when we turn our back on our neighbors in need, we are the ones really needing help. For we have lost sight of why we are here and why God has created us.

For all those in need, our selves included, let us pray this prayer from Martin Luther,

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen me. I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether. O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you. In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have. I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor. I am a sinner; you are upright. With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give. Amen. 

As we continue together our journey through Lent to the cross, join me in pondering these questions, and join the #LentPhotoaDay adventure through images and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels. 

Source: “A prayer from Martin Luther,” found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), page 87.

The Joy of a #Child

As part of my Lenten journey this year, I will be blogging daily using the themes or words created by the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin in partnership with other ELCA synods for “Lent Photo a Day.” The word for today, March 4th, is “Child.”

Do you remember what it was like to be a child?

What games did you play? What toys were your favorites? What kind of imagining did you do? What were the most fun parts of life? What did you imagine that you would be when you grew up?

Today is my godson’s birthday. And that has me thinking today about the joy of a child.

Talking to him earlier on the phone today, he sounded as excited as ever. He sounded hopeful, joyful, and just plain happy.

jack
Our joyful godson…

Hearing his joy and talking with his parents made me so happy, and miss them all so much. But I smiled knowing that my godson was having a wonderful birthday. His joy was contagious.

Even though it’s Lent, I don’t think that means life during this season should be absent of joy.

There’s enough Lent in everyday life right now. There’s enough uncertainty with decisions being made and conspiracies being spun by leaders in government. There’s far too much hate, pain, and discrimination in this world, and lately, the sin and darkness of it has become all too real.

Yet, in the midst of this pain and hurt, God is still here. God is still for you, and for me.

I remembered that today in a new way, through hearing the voice and joy of a child over the phone, my Godson on his birthday.

Thank you Godson for that gift today. Thank you for reminding me of the joy of a child. Happy Birthday!

As we continue together our journey through Lent to the cross, join me in pondering these questions, and join the #LentPhotoaDay adventure through images and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels.