Maundy Thursday 2018

‘An Unexpected Evening’ (John 17 + disciples talking @ the table) [read by the ‘Lion’ Sunday School Class (grades 6+) on 3/29/2018 @ St Olaf]

Maundy Thursday Skit (John 13)
[Narrator, Peter, James, John]
[narrator] Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.
[James] Psst. Peter! Does Jesus seem a little pre-occupied to you?
[Peter] He seems fine. He always gets extra serious during the High Holidays.
[John] I don’t know, that forehead furrow looks deeper than usual tonight. I think something is up.
[James] Judas is acting a little squirrely, too. Maybe there is a problem with the taxes.
[Peter] Don’t let Matthew hear you say that. You know he still gets a little touchy about tax-collector comments.
[John] Hush, we’re getting the ‘mom look’ from Mary. I think it’s time for supper.
[narrator] And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
[James] I told you He was acting weird! What’s up with this?! We have slaves to wash our feet. This is so humiliating. What should we do?
[Peter] Well, I for one am not going to let Him demean Himself like this. This is shameful. He is our teacher, not out servant! We should be serving Him.
[John] And just how do you plan to stop Him?
[Peter] I’ll reason with Him. Make Him see the folly of His actions.
[James] (mumbling) Yeah, you do that. That’s always worked so well for you in the past
[James & John] Not.
[narrator] 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
[Peter] “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
[narrator] 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him,
[Peter] “You will never wash my feet.”
[narrator] Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him,
[Peter] “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
[narrator] 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
[John] That went well.
[James] As well as it usually does with Peter. Who do you think Jesus is talking about?
[John] No clue, but it’s not me.
[James] Me either.
[Peter] Well, don’t look at me. I’m taking that little dialogue to mean only my feet are dirty. I wonder who it is.
[James] I can’t imagine it being any of us. I mean, we all make a mess occasionally, but we all bathe.
[Peter] I think He was really talking about sin, not physical dirt. He meant bathe metaphorically, not literally.
[John] Metaphorically or literally, we all try our best. We’ve been together for three years now. If one of us were leaving, I think we’d know it by now.
[Peter] I have a feeling this may be worse than leaving – or not bathing. Something is definitely not right. I’m starting to get worried.
[narrator] 12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread[e] has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. 20 Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”
[John] OK, now we’re supposed to wash each other’s feet?
[James] Apparently. What exactly do you think He means?
[John] Take care of each other. Don’t try to lord things over each other. Treat one another with love and respect. Tend to one another’s needs. Put others ahead of ourselves.
[James] Basically, do the opposite of what our mother keeps telling us to do?
[John] Pretty much. That coincides with the lecture we got earlier after she asked Jesus to grant us to superior status over the other disciples.
[Peter] Jesus wants us to treat one another like He treats us. When we interact with people, we are showing them the kind of person He is. We represent Him. Our words and deeds reflect back on Him.
[John] Like ambassadors. People learn who Jesus is and what He teaches by watching and listening to us.
[James] That makes sense. He wants us to follow His example instead of the world’s.
[narrator] 21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.
[James] Ok, I knew something was upsetting Him. Something is definitely going on with Jesus. This is way beyond His usual ‘High Holiday’ somber mood. I don’t think I have ever seen Him this upset.
[Peter] I knew it was worse than someone leaving! What do you think He means by ‘betray Him’?
[John] I’m not sure, but it can’t be good. I agree with James, this is the most upset I have ever seen Him. And it’s a different kind of upset.
[James] exactly, I mean, we’ve seen Him irritated at the Temple moneychangers, frustrated with us, and even perturbed by the incessant tricks and accusations of the Scribes and Pharisees, but this is different. He seems almost resigned and pensive.
[Peter] I have a bad feeling about this. We better not let Him out of our sight. He might need our protection.
[James] On one hand, I thoroughly agree with you, on the other hand…
[John] the Messiah is fully capable of protecting Himself?
[James] Yeah. Don’t you think God would protect Him better than we ever could? Don’t you think God would stop anyone from hurting His Son long before we realized He was even in danger?
[Peter] You’re right, but I would still feel better if we all stuck close. Even if you two have just reminded me how inconsequential I am.
[John] Sorry. Back to the betrayal. I still cannot imagine any of us ever betraying Jesus. We all love Him. We gave up everything to follow Him. I don’t think you could find a more loyal group of disciples in all Judea.
[Peter] I agree, but apparently we aren’t all as loyal as we think we are. I can’t imagine who it could be either. For all I know, it could be one of you. John, ask Him.
[John] Ask Him what?
[Peter] Ask Him who is going to betray Him.
[John] Why don’t you ask Him?
[Peter] I already got a lecture tonight with the foot washing thing. You are less likely to put your foot in your mouth.
[John] Good point – you do seem to have an amazing talent for that.
[Peter] Just ask Him!
23 One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him,
[John] “Lord, who is it?”
[narrator] 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
[Peter] That didn’t help. We all ate the bread. We don’t know anymore than we did before. This is getting frustrating.
[John] Hmm, I wonder what Jesus wants Judas to do? Maybe we are finally moving on from this whole betrayal issue and doing some more concrete ministry.
[James] Hey! Maybe it is a metaphorical betrayal instead of a literal one.
[Peter] ‘metaphorical betrayal’?! What exactly is that supposed to be?
[James] Hey, you got to have a metaphorical bath, I can have a metaphorical betrayal.
[John] Seriously? Will you two quit bickering? Jesus is obviously still troubled. I can’t hear what He is saying over the two of you.
[James] Where is Judas going?! Talk about eat and run. He didn’t even bother to tell us where he was going or when he would be back. How rude.
[Peter] Maybe we need to travel again after supper & he went to load up supplies on the donkey.
[John] The wine looks like it is getting low, maybe Judas went for more.
[James] Don’t you remember the wedding at Cana? We are eating supper with the guy who turned water into wine. I doubt Jesus sent Judas to buy more wine.
[John] Maybe Judas went to get more water then.
[Peter] OK, we are all a little on edge tonight. Let’s think about this. Judas has the common purse. It is the Passover. Lamb is not cheap. Jesus probably sent Judas to buy food for the poor. He would want them to be able to celebrate the Passover.
[James] Good point. That’s more logical than getting us more wine or water.
[narrator] 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him,[j] God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’
[James] Well that puts a crimp in Peter’s ‘keep a close eye on Him’ plan. How are we supposed to keep an eye on Him if we can’t go where he is going?
[John] Metaphorical going? (chuckle)
[Peter] Not funny. We can’t let Him wander off by Himself. The chief priests and the Pharisees want to arrest Him. You know what happened to John the Baptizer.
[John] Are you looking for another lecture? Go ahead and tell Jesus He can’t go off by Himself. See how that goes.
[James] Like most of Peter’s conversations with Jesus?
[John] That would be my guess.
[Peter] I don’t care. I am going to follow Him whether He likes it or not. And you two are going with me.
[John] We are? None of us slept well last night. If Jesus wants time alone, I say we let Him and take naps instead. He’s a grown man. We should respect His wishes.
[Peter] We are going with Him. No matter what, we are going with Him.
[narrator] 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
[James] Peter, if you really loved us, you’d let us take a nap. (chuckle)
[Peter] I do love you. You can sleep later. This is more important. How would you feel if something were to happen to Him while you were taking a nap? Sometimes loving someone means helping them do what is right instead of letting them fall into temptation. We are going with Him. Nothing can stop us.
[James] So…no nap?
[John] No nap. As much as it pains me to say this, Peter is right. It’s really not safe for any of us to go off alone. Let’s go. Jesus is starting to get his ‘I’m going off by myself to pray’ look.

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April 2018

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 lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” (Matthew 28:5-7)

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Amen.
The angel’s message to the women was not complicated, yet completely unexpected and amazingly difficult to believe. Almost everything in their experience with life and death went against this simple message. Dead people are supposed to stay dead. It is highly doubtful this was the first time they had gone to anoint a body. However, every other time they had visited a tomb to anoint a body, the afore-mentioned body was still there. The notable exception, of course, being Lazarus – but even Lazarus’ resurrection was post-anointment and more importantly – – – Jesus was there and did that. Jesus is not standing outside the tomb this time telling Himself to get up. For the women, as well as likely most of the disciples, the hope of miracles and resurrection presumably died along with Jesus. Surrounded by sin, evil, and death, the women came to their own (logical given the circumstances) conclusion of grave robbery.
The women struggled with the news. The Gospel according to Mark’s original ending has the women going away scared and silent. Obviously, they didn’t stay silent forever (or we never would have heard). Eventually, they shared the message with the disciples, who also had a difficult time with it. They too struggled with the message. They also had difficulty believing that Jesus really did exactly what He had told them He would. The supposition of those who first heard the message was ‘death won’. Their grief was informing and encouraging a belief that sin and evil won and were, in fact, still winning. Even while receiving the news that Jesus was raised from the dead, those closest to Him experienced attacks on their faith.
Jesus has explained the upcoming course of events to them several times. Now that it had transpired, they struggled. Mark describes Jesus foretelling His death and resurrection to His disciples three times. Yet, despite having just witnessed His death, they still struggled with the news of His resurrection. He had prepared them for the message, but it still seemed impossible to them. With the amount of sin, death, and evil surrounding them, Jesus’ death seemed more believable than His resurrection. They seemed to grasp the despair, but not the hope. It was easier to believe the anguish, while the joy floated out of reach. The fear seemed nearer than the assurance.
Yet the voice of the angel proclaimed, “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.” The messenger reminded those early followers of Jesus’ promise. The message brought the hope, the joy, and the assurance all front and center. That message is a reminder that sin, death, and evil did not defeat God, but God defeated them. Death did not get the last word. Life did. Specifically, life in Christ gets the last word. Resurrection is greater than death.
The message was not just for Jesus’ followers in the 1st century, it is also for us. Like disciples of time past, we too often find the words of hope, joy, and assurance drowned out by the sin, death, and evil in around us. We too find it easier to believe despair. We struggle with events around us that seem to point away from God’s kingdom and divine will.
The evangelist John begins his account of the life of Jesus, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
The apostle Paul reminds us, “But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:8-11)
Jesus bestows life on you – now and forever. Jesus gives you light. Jesus is the “resurrection and the life.” You have been united to Him. Despair did not, does not, and cannot overcome hope. Doubt is curtailed by faith. Grief retreats in the face of joy. Fear is restrained by assurance. Christ is your light. Jesus is your resurrection and life. The darkness could not overcome the light years ago and darkness does not overcome the light now. The Son of God conquered Death. Death was and continues to be defeated by life – the life of Christ and your life in Christ. Jesus lives! You live!
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! You are raised in Christ! Alleluia! The grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the crucified and risen Lord. Amen.

In Christ,
Pastor Carla

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (John 11:26-27)

Take Up Your Cross (dual) Soliloquys

from Midweek Lenten Services 2018 (St Olaf – Zion Lutheran Parish, Odin, MN)

Take up Your Cross: Forgiven & Sent (2/21)
Soliloquys: Matthew/Levi the tax collector (M) & the woman accused of adultery (W)
M/L: He stopped them. I can’t believe it! They were ready to dole out justice and he stopped them. She deserved to die. The law is clear. She violated the marriage vows. She committed adultery! She deserves nothing but punishment. They say it is to protect us all – to keep us righteous. The punishments are harsh to discourage us from sinning. Albeit, I do find it a little gruesome to watch a mob take justice into their own hands. But still, they were following the law. He actually stopped them.
W: Did I faint? Am I already dead? Why didn’t I feel the stones? I saw the people. The rocks were already raised and aimed. I shut my eyes to hide my tears. I felt their anger. I sensed their hatred radiating from them. I felt my own shame consuming my tortured soul. I am an awful person. I am a sinner. Why didn’t I feel the blows of the stones?
M: He forgave her. He forgave me too. Because He forgave me, I realized what a sinner I was. I used to think it was all justifiable. The kickbacks, the ‘accidental’ overcharging, the threats, the manipulations, the fear tactics – all part of being good at my job. You know – – everyone was doing it, why shouldn’t I? Those things are just what it meant to be a tax-collector. It never even occurred to me that I might be hurting other people. Then I met Jesus. And He forgave me.
W: I’m not dead. I am still standing in the street, but everyone left. There are a just a few men standing here. I don’t recognize them. I’ve never seen them before. They aren’t from here. One seems to be their teacher. The others keep looking at him expectantly, like he’s about to impart some major insight or revelation. Did He stop my execution? Or did He just delay it. Maybe he wants to punish me himself. Where did the crowd go? They won’t allow let me to stay in this town. I am a sinner. No one will want me in their town. No one will want me in their lives. Why didn’t he let me die?
M: One of the Psalms sings, “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.” It’s true. Jesus showed me my sin. He showed how misguided my life really was. I was hurting other people. I was being dishonest. God’s ways are good and upright. My ways were bad and immoral. Jesus showed me that truth.
W: He is talking to me. He seems like a good man, a righteous man. Why is he talking to me, a sinful woman, an adulteress of all things? Good men don’t speak to strange woman to begin with, let alone address condemned women. Who is he? Why is he talking to me? Why is he speaking kindly to me? I deserve nothing but shame and hatred. I deserve death. Why is he speaking to me? Why isn’t he throwing stones?
M: Being forgiven was kind of like when a bright light shines onto the dirtiest and dingiest corners of your house. Or when your mother checks behind your ears. As long as you don’t look too closely, it looks fine. It seems clean. But if you take a closer look – – gross!
W: He says he forgives me. How can I be forgiven? I have sinned. There is no excuse for my sins. I have sinned against God and neighbor. I am a home-wrecker! I don’t deserve compassion. I deserve judgement and condemnation. How can he forgive me? Doesn’t he understand how wicked I have been? Doesn’t he see what I am?
M: We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s standards. That’s why the crowd put down their stones. They saw their own sinfulness. Did you know that King David wrote Psalm 51? He prayed it after impregnating Bathsheba. That in and of itself wouldn’t have been so bad had it not been for the circumstances. She happened to be married to one of his soldiers, Uriah. Then David arranged for her husband to be killed in battle. This great king whom we all admired – he sinned too. Yet King David prayed to God, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” He asked for forgiveness. We pray those words as well. Jesus forgives us. He shines his light into our lives and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
W: This man – He says I am forgiven. He says that I am now clean. I have a new spirit. This man is giving me a new life. What will I do now? What does this mean? I never expected such compassion or love from anyone. No one has ever shown me such great mercy. My life is no longer my own. I owe him everything. I can never repay him for this kindness. Where do I go from here?
M: Jesus shined His light into the dark corners of my life and revealed my sins to me. He forgave me. He swept out those corners and made me clean again. Maybe I should have warned you, I am a big fan of the Psalms. Last week I heard you reciting Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” Jesus does that. He cleaned my heart and gave me a new spirit. Jesus gives me the strength to take up my cross. I am forgiven and sent.
W: I will follow him. I will sin no more. I will serve the Lord. Jesus loves me. I will try to be worthy of this amazing love and grace. No matter what happens, His spirit will guide me. He goes with me. He gives me the strength to take up my cross. I am forgiven and sent.
M: Jesus creates in you a clean heart and renews a right spirit within you. Jesus gives you the strength to take up your cross. You are forgiven and sent. Go in peace. Serve the Lord.

Take up Your Cross: Fighting the cares of this world (2/28)
Soliloquys: Pilate (P) & his wife (W)
W: I wish we never came to this awful place. I should have listened to my mother. She warned me not to marry a soldier. My father was convinced he would rise through the ranks and be a good match – an asset to the family. Well guess what, Papa? He did. He was best in his garrison. He found favor with his superiors. He advanced into politics. He rose to be the esteemed governor of this place – this remote, unbearable place. The people follow all these strange rules. The markets are closed every Saturday. Yes Papa, the husband you chose for me rose through the ranks and landed us in a place where you can’t even get a good pork chop!
P: What am I going to do? If I listen to my wife, the chief priests and other Jewish leaders will lose respect for me. I am the emperor’s governor. I represent the Roman Empire – the most powerful and feared empire in the world. We rule the world. There is nothing greater than us. I can’t show weakness to anyone, especially not these people. I can’t let them know I take counsel from my wife! No one would ever respect me again! Granted, I’m sure lots of leaders listen to their wives, but none admit it in public!
W: Stubborn man! I told him pawn this mess off onto someone else. He’s playing with fire. Anyone can see these so-called leaders are just jealous, petty men. They don’t want what is best for their people. They are threatened by this Jesus. The common folk like him more than them. Oh, boo-hoo! Poor little Scribes and Pharisees, nobody loves you anymore! Newsflash – it’s time to grow up. Their campaign against this Jesus is going to bring about destruction for a lot of people – including my husband if he doesn’t start listening to me!
P: If I don’t listen to her, something terrible will happen. I know these dreams of hers. They are never wrong. I’m not sure where she gets this ‘gift’, but it never fails. If she was troubled all last night because of this Jesus character, I should walk away. How can I walk away? How can I avoid the travesty that is playing out before my very eyes?
W: For once, couldn’t he listen to me? After all these years of marriage, he should know enough to pray attention to my dreams. They are never wrong! Something terrible is going to happen! I begged him to listen. I pleaded with him to let this Jesus go. He knows he is innocent. He admits that the chief priests are acting out of jealousy. The man I married could never condemn an innocent man. Granted, my father chose him, but my husband is a good man. He’s a good soldier. He’s a good governor. I don’t understand why he is still holding this Jesus.
P: How can I get out of this? How can I oppose the local leaders without causing a civil war? I was given the responsibility for all these people. I have to think about what is best for all of them, as well as the wishes of my emperor. What am I going to do? Can I somehow trick the leaders into letting Jesus go free?
W: If he lets the Jews kill Jesus, we will all suffer. That husband of mine thinks he’s in control. He’s not. He is being held hostage by those pathetic men. They are playing games with him, trying to manipulate him into doing their dirty work. If they want to kill someone, let the blood be on their own hands!
P: Passover is coming. Maybe I can get Jesus released on a technicality. Each year, I release a prisoner for the Jews. I know Jesus is innocent of the charges against him. The people must know too. They’ve known their leaders much longer than I have. There’s no way they will take the side of the chief priests over Jesus. I seen the crowds following Jesus around the city and the countryside. The people love him. If I offer them a choice. I can release Jesus or … hmm… let’s see, who’s the worst criminal we have at the moment? Ooh, here’s one – murderer and insurgent. He’ll do. Easy choice – will the people want to welcome back a murderer or a healer? Obviously, they’ll chose Jesus of Nazareth. I can clean up this mess and hopefully retire in a few years – preferably back in Rome.
W: Why is he smiling? There is nothing to smile about! He probably thinks he can outwit these guys. I don’t think my dearest husband realizes the evil he is facing. These men will stop at nothing to have Jesus crucified. They know the command has to come from Pilate. They are not permitted to have anyone executed. They are using my husband for their own evil intent! How dare they! I hope Jesus is their God’s Son like the people claim. That’ll serve them.
P: I failed. I failed as a leader. I failed as a Roman. I failed as a human being. I let them win. I bent to their demands. I walked away and let them take him. I failed to save an innocent man. I let him die. I let the demands of a mob sway my judgement. I let evil win. Instead of doing what was right and just, I did what was easiest at the time. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
W: We all failed. None of us stopped the injustice. It was easier at the time to go along with the flow. We all nailed Jesus to that cross. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Take up Your Cross: Confessing the Faith (3/7)
Soliloquys: Peter (P) & his wife (W)
P: I left everything to follow Jesus. My family…my job…my old friends…my village. I walked away from everything I knew. I walked away from who I was. I became a new man. I became a follower of Jesus. And, quite honestly, I was one of the best. Jesus even admitted it.
W: We let him go. We saw just what an incredible impact Jesus had on Peter’s life. We understood the consequences of his discipleship. I’ve managed okay with help of friends and other family. We see Peter occasionally when the Rabbi and the disciples are passing through. Peter brought Jesus to us when my mother was on her deathbed. It was amazing. Jesus came into the room, prayed, and the next thing we knew, she was up and about in the kitchen. I know my husband loves me. I also understand the love he has for Jesus. Just because I understand, doesn’t mean I don’t still worry. I’m scared.
P: The other disciples look to me for guidance whenever Jesus goes off by himself to pray. In my former life, no one looked to me for anything other than my wife. In some ways, it is an honor. Some days, however, the weight feels unbearable. Today is one of those days.
W: I heard the news in the market place. Jesus has been arrested by the Romans. No one seems to know what has happened to the rest of the disciples. How could this have happened?! What will become of Peter? What will befall all of us?
P: Last night, Jesus once again predicted his death. He’s done this several times already. The first few times, we all panicked, by now we’ve gotten used to it. I’ve tried to tell Him to be more upbeat. That kind of talk was ruining morale. We all hear it, but I don’t think any of us really listen anymore. It’s almost as though we tune Him out whenever He starts to get morbid. Last night, He added a new twist – one that definitely got our attention. On top of His usual ‘I have to die’ speech, Jesus threw in a little bomb. Rather than being His loyal followers, we would all run away like cowards when the time comes. He flat out told us, we would drop Him like a hot potato as soon as things got rough.
W: It’s even worse than I imagined. One of the disciples betrayed Jesus. Someone accepted money in exchange for leading a mob to Jesus! The disciples were like family. They loved one another. They depended upon one another. They trusted one another. How could one of Jesus’ dearest loved ones betray Him? How could one of their own betray them all?
P: We all vowed not to abandon Jesus. No matter what possibly would happen, we would stand by Him. We are His closest friends, of course, we’ll stand by Him. I was the loudest and most insistent. I can’t imagine anything that could possibly make me turn my back on Jesus. He trusted me. I loved Him. There was no way I would leave Him. Have you ever seen a parent looking at a stubborn child indulgently? Like they are just waiting for the child to realize how ridiculous he or she is acting? Yeah, that look. That was the look Jesus gave me.
W: Everyone says Jesus alone was arrested.
P: What Jesus said to me? “Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.” I was in shock. Seriously?! He should know me better by now. We’ve been traveling together for a few years. How could He think so poorly of me? I was so offended. That is not the kind of man I am.
W: Peter’s smart. He’s strong. He can take care of himself. He’ll take care of the other disciples. He’ll know what to do. He’ll make me proud to be his wife.
P: Turns out, that is exactly the kind of man I am. I denied knowing Him. Not once. Not twice. I denied Him three times before dawn even broke. I am weak. Judas may have betrayed Him first, but I am no better. Judas fell into the temptation of silver. I fell into temptation of self-preservation. I chose myself over choosing Jesus. Despite my best intentions, despite my confidence and arrogance, I failed to keep my word. I failed to confess the truth I know. I lied about who I was. I lied about my relationship with Jesus. It was a fairly easy question, “are you with Him?” I manage to answer incorrectly three times! Jesus renamed me Cephas, or the Rock. I was called to be a rock for the other disciples. Today, I proved that I am indeed a rock, a rock that shatters and crumbles under the slightest pressure.
W: I heard they plan to crucify Jesus. I pray that Peter stays strong. The other disciples need him to be strong. I pray his faith can withstand the persecution he now faces.
P: I got that look again. He knew. He saw how weak I was. Yet, He still asked me to help the others. He told me He prayed that I could be strong for them. I am so weak. I am so worn. How can I lead the others? How can I report what happened here this morning? When Mary His mother asks if heard anything, what can I say? Sorry, I pretended to have never met your son while they beat him, mocked him, and spat at him? He knew I was weaker than weak, even when I thought I was strong. How could He expect me to help the others? How do I continue to follow when I am so inept?
W: Please Lord, keep my husband strong. Protect him from temptation. Lead him in your ways. Banish his doubts and fill him with your perfect faith. Hold him up by your power as he and the other disciples face these uncertain days. Your Will be done, O Lord. Deal graciously with your followers and send us your spirit.
P: Lord, forgive me my weakness. Strengthen my faith and witness. Guide me to lead your people. Make me worthy of Your mission. Your Will be done, O Lord. Deal graciously with your followers and send us your spirit.

Take up Your Cross: Carrying Burdens (3/14)
Soliloquys: Favorite disciple (J) & Mary (M)
M: Little did I know. The angel Gabriel told me I would bear God’s Son. I rejoiced. I knew it would be difficult. I knew Joseph might break the engagement and send me away. I still rejoiced. It was a privilege. I was overjoyed. God was giving me a gift beyond my imagination. God was blessing me with His own self.
J: Poor Mary. I realize Jesus says it has to happen this way to fulfill Scripture, but part of me wants to scream and yell at Him for doing this to his mother. Part of me agrees with all the chants to come down off that cross. I don’t need Him to not to prove He is the Son of God, but I am having a difficult time understanding how the Son of God lets His mother this suffer like this. She carried Him. She raised Him. She and Joseph uprooted their lives and fled to Egypt to protect Him from Herod. She has followed Him around the countryside these past few years. She spent all those years protecting Him, nurturing Him, loving Him – for this?
M: I pondered the words of the shepherds in my heart. I treasured the gifts of the magi. These men came to honor my baby. I remember fondly the kind prayer of this elderly man named Simeon after the baby was dedicated. He thanked God for allowing him to see God’s salvation as he held my little boy. And I heard the prophet Anna telling anyone who would listen how special my baby boy was. She too praised God for giving my son to Israel. I treasured all these words in my heart. I treasured my special baby, God’s special baby.
M: It was never easy. I remember how relieved I was when I went into labor with my second child. I got to give birth at home – no cross-country donkey ride, no scrambling for somewhere to give birth, no cacophony of barnyard noises accompanying my grunting, no cleaning out a food trough in order to have a spot to put the baby. I got to be home, near our family, in a house.
J: She’s been through so much already. Most mothers get to enjoy the children growing older, learn a trade, get married, have grandchildren. She has spent her whole life putting Him first. She has worked so hard to make sure He fulfilled God’s Will. I wonder how she feels now – watching God’s Will here at Golgotha.
M: I admit I’ve also known fear over the years. When the angel told Joseph that Herod wanted to kill Jesus, I was terrified every time I heard a noise outside. I wouldn’t let that boy out of my sight the entire time we lived in Egypt. When Jesus decided to hang out at the Temple instead of joining the family caravan back to Nazareth – a few gray hairs from that one. When He started teaching and preaching, I was proud. I was also scared. I heard what people in our hometown of Nazareth said. I heard the mumblings behind my back – everything from a prophet to a demon king. I’ve seen how people get when they get that mob mentality. They stop listening to reason. They stop thinking for themselves. They stop caring about other people. Mobs are scary. They are especially scary when they direct their anger and hatred at my little boy. This, watching my baby hang on a cross taking his last breaths. This is all my worst fears not only realized, by magnified.
J: He’s not coming down. He’s not saving Himself. He’s letting her watch Him die. How can He let her watch Him suffer like this? How can He do this to His own mother?
M: God’s Will. It was God’s Will that I gave birth to the Messiah. As much as I don’t understand it, Jesus says this is God’s Will too. I am trying so hard to trust God right now. He gave me His Son, now He’s taking Him away. God, give me the strength to trust you in the midst of things I don’t understand. I don’t understand why this has to happen. I don’t understand how people can do this to an innocent man. These very people were throwing down palm branches and cloaks earlier this week. They shouted ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’ How do those people turn into these people within a few days? I don’t understand why my Son, your Son, has to die for the sake of the world. I don’t understand why You can’t find an easier, less painful way to accomplish Your Will. I don’t understand, Lord.
J: She can barely stand. Her tears are breaking my heart. It’s almost easier to watch the life seep out Jesus, than watch her witness it. The grief is overwhelming. Her pain radiates from her. The other women are trying to comfort her, but I don’t think there is anything that can comfort her now. Jesus told me to take care of her. She is my mother now. I will provide for her. I will give her a home and a family. I will watch over her and protect her. I will comfort her. My children will be her grandchildren. And we will share our grief. We will carry it together.
M: I cannot face this alone. No one can face this alone. I am not alone. Jesus left me with a son. He gave me his disciple to be my son. I will not be alone. I will be his mother. I will live out my life as part of his family. I will love him as my own. I will grieve with him. We will share our burden. He understands my grief. He knows my anguish. He loves Jesus, too. We will comfort one another and bear our burdens together. He will grieve alone. I will not bear my grief alone. We will carry our pain together as God wills.
J: It is finished. Perhaps this is finished. Maybe this part of God’s kingdom coming is finished, but our new journey is just beginning. It is time for Mary, me, and the rest of the disciples to put the pieces back together. God called us to be His body in the world. Now that His earthly body has been destroyed, we wait. We wait together. We grieve together. We may even have to hide together. One thing is certain, Jesus wanted us to stay together. He called us together.
M: I will go with the other women and see where they lay Him. Then I will go to my new home with my new son. We will break bread. We will weep. We will pray. We will wait for the promised advocate to help us bear our burdens. We will do it together.

Take up Your Cross: Showing the Faith (3/21)
Soliloquys: Joseph of Arimathea (J) & Nicodemus (N)
J: I let this happen. I should have stood up to the Sanhedrin. I am a coward. I believed, but I hid my faith in Jesus for fear of my peers. I was worried about my reputation. I was concerned about what the other Jewish leaders would think of me. I was wrapped up in maintaining my status in the community. I was too scared to speak up. I was too spineless to admit my faith. Then again, what kind of faith is it, if you hide it? Is it really faith if you are too cowardly too share it?
N: I am a coward. I recognized something was special about Jesus. I saw the amazing deeds He did. I watched Him heal the sick. I saw Him banish demons. I wanted to meet Him. I wanted to know Him. I wanted to know if He was the Messiah – the One for whom we have been waiting. I had a deep desire to know Him. I hoped and prayed that He was the Christ, God’s Anointed.
J: I knew He was innocent. Even Pilate had more courage than me. He at least washed his hands and voiced his opinion. He told us, “Let his blood be upon your hands.” It is. An innocent man’s blood is on my hands. I am so ashamed. I am not worthy of my standing in the community. Or perhaps I am. If we are truly a people condemned, maybe I am worthy of being a leader of this lost and vile generation. His blood is on our hands, and the hands of our children. I am tainted by my sins. I cannot be made clean.
N: I was afraid my friends might see me. When He first came to town, I snuck out to try to see Him. I skulked around the city look a thief in the night trying to determine where He was staying. I found Him. I woke Him and His host in the middle of the night. Despite my prowling and cunning methods of locating Him, He still welcomed me. I deceived my own family and friends. I outright lied to my peers. That is how much I wanted to meet Him. And that is how scared I was of the people I claimed to love and trust. I hid my visit from everyone.
J: What could I possibly do to assuage my guilt? I could have stopped His crucifixion. How can I look His mother in the eye? I took away her son. I let her watch him be beaten and mocked for no good reason. I stood by and let jealous men get their way – get their vengeance. An innocent man id dead. I could have stopped it. I should have stopped it. My fears cost a man his life. My cowardice cost a family a son and brother. My selfishness robbed disciples their teacher and friend. How do I live with myself, knowing I allowed this to happen?
N: I secretly followed all the news about Jesus’ travels. I hungered for each tidbit of information concerning the miracles and the healings. I yearned for happenstance meetings with travelers who would recollect His many teachings and parables. I craved the peace that came from hearing His voice.
J: I can at least make sure He has a proper burial. It’s not enough to offset role in these horrific events, but it is something. There isn’t anything that will be enough to cleanse me of my sin. I own a new tomb. No one has ever been laid there. I will buy the proper oils and spices. I will procure the traditional burial shroud. He was innocent. He deserves more than a pauper’s grave. His family and friends deserve a place to go to mourn their loss. It doesn’t make up for my cowardice, but it is something, not much, but something.
N: I led a double-life. In public, I was a pillar of my community. I was greatly admired as a teacher of the Law. In secret, I was a follower of Jesus. I did believe He was the Messiah. I knew He was the One sent by God to save us. I was too attached to my status as a Pharisee to admit it though. Jesus saw right through me. He knew I was a coward. I was a little jealous of how much easier those fishermen had it. Yes, they left everything to follow Him, but quite frankly, they had less to leave. I figured it was okay to believe in Jesus without changing my life. I was too weak to walk away from my privileged life. I realize now, they didn’t have less to leave – they had a better view of what they were leaving for. They were stronger than I was. They had a firmer understanding of how valuable Jesus really was. They had more faith. They followed. I watched from afar, too scared to disrupt my well-ordered life. I was so emmeshed in my own world, I failed to see true life was right there in front of me. I was so worried about what I might have to give up, that I missed out on what I would gain.
J: I cannot move the body by myself. I’m too ashamed to ask any of Jesus’ friends of family for help. How they must hate me. They will probably see this as an empty gesture from a guilt-ridden man. I suppose it is. They are most likely terrified of what will now happen to them. They should probably hide until things calm down a bit. None of them have the funds to give Jesus a proper burial. For that matter, none of them have the connections to ask for the body. It is unlikely that Pilate would grant any of Jesus’ disciples the body. The other Jewish leaders would never allow it. I noticed a look of dismay cross Nicodemus’s face. I suspect he has some of the same feelings of regret and shame I do. I will ask Pilate for the body of Jesus. I will ask Nicodemus to help me. We will accomplish this gesture for Mary and the others. He may have died as a common criminal, but Jesus will not be buried as one. It may be too little too late, but it will be done. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
N: Lord, you called me to follow. I ran the other way. I neglected your word. You offered me new life and I hid my faith in the darkness of my old life. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

‘Lent’ – a readers’ theater

from 2/18/2018 (4 kids; 1 is male; 2 is female; 3 & 4 can be either gender)
1: Hey! Wait up you guys!! My sister forgot she was doing a fundraiser, so my Mom wound up having to buy a whole box of chocolate from her. Want some?
2: No thanks. I gave up chocolate for Lent.
1: Uh, I’m giving it to you, not lending it to you. I really don’t want it back after you eat it.
3: She doesn’t want to borrow it. She isn’t eating any chocolate because of her religion. I will gladly eat her share though. Thanks!
1: What does chocolate have to do with religion?
3: She’s a Christian, they’re only allowed to eat chocolate bunnies. All other chocolate is a sin.
4: Stop messing with him! Lent – L-E-N-T – is a season before Easter when people think about what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross.
2: This year, every time I want to eat chocolate, I think about Jesus instead. That’s what I meant by giving up chocolate for Lent.
3: I always want to eat chocolate. I’d be thinking about Jesus nonstop.
4: That wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Maybe you should try it.
1: I still don’t understand this Lent thing. What exactly is it?
2: Ok, you know how the year has different seasons and you do different things during them.
1: Like sledding in the winter and waterskiing in the summer.
2: Yeah, like that. Well, the church has different seasons throughout the year too. It starts with Advent, when we are getting ready for Jesus’s birthday, then Christmas, then Epiphany, then Lent.
3: So Lent is every February?
4: No, sometimes it starts in February, sometimes in March. It is always 40 days before Easter.
3: Christmas is on December 25th every year, what day is Easter? Shouldn’t Lent always start at the same time if it starts 40 days before Easter?
2: (mumbling) I should have just taken the chocolate. This is getting more complicated by the minute. (louder) Easter is on a different calendar day each year.
3: Well, that’s dumb. Don’t people get confused?
4: Sometimes. It started a long time ago, before the calendar we use now was invented. People told time, days, months, and stuff from the sun and the moon. Easter is still based on an old calendar that followed the phases of the moon.
2: Easter Sunday is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.
1: I have no idea what any of that means.
4: Well, you know how the daytime is longer in June than December.
3: Yeah, we learned about that in science class. The earth is going around the sun and tilted closest to it in June.
1: And furthest away from the sun in December – at least in the north.
2: Right. In between those two, in Spring and Fall, there are the equinoxes. The day and night are the same length. They’re equal! After the ‘equal day’ in the Spring, we wait for the next full moon. The following Sunday is Easter!
1: So every year, Christians figure out what day the day and night will be equal. Then they figure out when the next full moon is…
2: And Easter starts the Sunday after that!
3: That’s way more work than I want to do to figure out a holiday.
4: A lot of Christians agree. Different people have been trying to change it for centuries. My recommendation – just google ‘Easter’ along with whatever year it is. This year is April 1st. Lent began last Wednesday.
1: Hey, wasn’t that the day you forgot to wash your faces? You both had dirt on your foreheads!
2: That wasn’t dirt. It was ashes.
1: According to my grandma, ashes count as dirt. She was furious that time I got dirt all over her living room when I had my GI Joes invade the enemy in her fireplace.
2: Well, this wasn’t ashes from her fireplace. There is a special service the day Lent begins called Ash Wednesday. We are anointed with the ashes from last year’s palms from Palm Sunday. It reminds us how human we are.
4: It is also a sign of repentance. We confess our sins to God, tell Him we are sorry. He forgives us and we vow to try better.
1: All that with ashes?
2: It’s a reminder to us. In the olden days, people would cover themselves in ashes to show how sad they were. We are sad when we don’t live up to what God wants for us.
3: Hold up a minute! I just checked my calendar. There are more than 40 days between February 14th and April 1st. Can’t Christians count? Or do you have different calendars and weird math?
4: Subtract the Sundays.
3: What?! This is a new math. OK, 1,2,3,…Fine – it is 40 without the Sundays. I thought Sundays were important to Christians. Why would you skip the Sundays?!
2: Lent is 40 days of fasting and repentance. Those 40 days are a time to be somber and think about Jesus’s sacrifice for us. Sundays are always a celebration of His resurrection. Therefore, Sundays don’t count toward the 40 days.
1: (sarcastically) Obviously. Why 40 days? That’s not even an even number of weeks. It’s like a month plus a week and a few days!
2: Forty is a common number in the Bible. People thought it signified something special.
4: Like God sending rain to flood the earth for 40 days & nights. The Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness after they fled Egypt. Elijah fasted for 40 days on Mt Horeb before God spoke to him. Nineveh fasted for 40 days to repent before God forgave them. Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days and Jesus spent 40 days on earth after He was resurrected.
2: No one today knows exactly why the number 40, but it has come to signify cleansing and transformation. That’s also what Lent is about. We set this time aside to remember how God is changing us over into the image of Jesus.
3: So… this Lent thing is 40 days not counting Sundays, starts on a different date every year, they rub dirt on your face, you get a make-over to look like a first-century Jewish man, and they take away your chocolate?! Why would anyone want to be a Christian?
2: Being a Christian is more than just those things. Lent isn’t about just those things. And not everyone gives up chocolate for Lent. That is what I chose to do this year.
4: Being a Christian means following Jesus all year. Lent is the time we set aside to think especially about his death and what it means to each of us and to the world. He changed us by dying for us – changed our hearts, not our faces.
1: I still don’t get it. How can someone’s death change your heart?
2: Love always changes the heart. Love changes how we look at the world. Think about how people act when they are filled with bitterness and hate.
1: I try to stay away from people like that. They’re almost always mean and nasty to everybody else. It puts me in a bad mood.
2: Exactly. And are you ever mean and nasty to others because someone was mean and nasty to you?
3: Yes he is!
2: Do you treat people better after being with someone who was treating you well – maybe even showed you that they cared about you?
1: Yeah, I guess I am. It’s easier to care about other people when I know someone cares about me.
4: We learn to love by being loved. And Jesus loves us more than humanly possible – he loves us even more than our parents. He was willing to die for us even though we don’t deserve his love.
3: Why would he love us so much?
2: Because God does. He made us to love and to be loved. When sin came into the world, humans had a hard time with love. They had trouble trusting God loved them. Sin, and all our sins, stem back to distrusting God and His love. We want to trust ourselves more than we trust God.
4: By dying for us, Jesus forgave us all our sins. He was perfect and not sinful. He trusted God completely because He was one with God. God sees Jesus’ complete trust and obedience instead of our sin.
2: Jesus shows us how to love by loving us. He sends the Holy Spirit to help us trust and believe. He forgives us when we sin. Lent is about focusing on those things. The disciplines people do, like me giving up chocolate, are ways people try to train themselves to focus.
3: Like the speed drills coach has us do for hockey?
4: Exactly. To get better at something, people practice. People practice for sports, music, art, hobbies – lots of things. During Lent, Christians look for ways to practice remembering God’s love for them. We practice thinking about how much God loved us and has done for us.
2: We do this all year, but during Lent, it’s a little like when coach makes you do suicide drills for the whole practice. We practice more intensely on one facet of discipleship.
1: So giving up chocolate is an activity to help you practice thinking about Jesus?

2: For me it is, but giving up chocolate wouldn’t work for someone who doesn’t like chocolate. They might give up coffee, or pop, or another favorite food. Someone else might practice by doing a special Bible reading plan, or prayer service. Some pray while walking or running a certain distance each day.
4: Some people clean out their old clothes and give them away. Others pick a special charity and put aside a certain amount of money each day. Some people pray for people who are sick while making a shawl for them.
2: There are lots of activities people use to practice focusing on Jesus. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. We try to find what helps each of us focus on Jesus the best.
3: Just like the same drill doesn’t help each player the same way. I can skate really fast, but I can be pretty clumsy with the puck. Coach has me do extra agility drills. My teammate has great stick coordination, but needs to get faster. Coach has her do speed drills.
2: You’re starting to get it. The goal is to know Jesus and how much He loves us. We love Jesus and want to serve Him. Lent is a time to practice doing that intensely. We practice being His disciples – each of us to the best of our ability with His help.
1: Will you help me find a way to practice being a disciple?
3: Me too?
2 & 4: Certainly!
4: Let us pray. Lord, you have called each of us to be your disciples in this world. Thank you for making us your children and for loving us. Help us to focus on knowing you and your Will for us. Help each of us grow closer to you and strengthen our faith during these forty days of Lent. In Jesus’ name we pray.
1,2,3,4: Amen!

March 2018

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited, but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Amen.
The oldest known ‘Christian’ hymn is thought to be found in Philippians 4. Many scholars believe that in this passage of his letter to the Philippians, Paul was reciting a known hymn used by early Christians during worship. It is believed that these words were not a new revelation to the congregation in Philippi, but a reminder of already familiar words of a beloved hymn. Like many more modern hymns, this passage of Philippians extols the nature of Christ and the work accomplished on the cross.
Very few hymns are theologically sound. It is nearly impossible to compose a piece for congregational singing that concisely comprises the whole of Christian theology within it.
Many 16th century passion cantatas and oratorios (such as Handle’s ‘Messiah’) did manage to encompass an entire Gospel narrative, however few, if any, are adaptable for congregational singing in either due to duration and/or vocal range. My sheet music for the ‘Messiah’ is 252 pages. Even if we managed to sing a page in 30 seconds – it would still take 2 hours. The soprano arias require a range much higher than comfortable (or possible) for most adult women while the bass range is also strenuous. Most oratorios were commissioned and composed for professional performance. They were intended for congregational listening, not singing. They do however convey the complete narrative of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
Facing far less than two hours and amateur vocalists, hymnwriters have a different goal than the Baroque oratorio composers. Hymns do not attempt to convey the entire story into one piece of music. Oftentimes hymns focus on the pathos of a moment within the common faith journey. They aim to evoke a certain emotional response from the singers and/or listeners. The aspiration of a hymn is often simply to nurture the faith of the believer. Hymns are aiming at bringing the hearer into an emotional bond with God and other believers. They aim to evoke a common emotion within the community of believers. Most hymns are not written with the intent to encourage intellectual understanding.
The focus of this hymn recited in Philippians is to evoke awe – the awe inspired by the crux of the incarnation. Jesus came into this world. God came to earth in human form. He died a human death. The hymn is a poignant reminder that God is greater than all things. He willingly lived and died to give us eternal life. This hymn in Philippians is assigned to be read within the context of the whole passion. It summarizes the lengthy passion narratives in the Gospels. The last night and day of Christ’s life is the narrative of His exceptional obedience. This hymn reflects the epitome of what it means to be Christ during Holy Week.
It also reminds us what Holy Week means to us as believers. We seek to emulate that ‘mind’ of Christ. We seek to empty ourselves of pride and follow the Lord. God has made such an amazing sacrifice for us. He gave up His Son. He gave up His own life to become fully human while remaining fully divine. God experienced the suffering, pain, and isolation of death on our behalf. We are filled with awe, humility, and gratitude at the reminder of the work of God on that cross long ago. The work that God continues to this day in our lives and in the world.
God was able to use something as crude and disgusting as public execution to do His work. He used a despised form of punishment and humiliation to accomplish His Will. Crudely constructed wood was utilized by the Lord to bring about life for His people. God used what was ‘despised’ by the world to make you Holy and righteous in His sight.
The grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

In Christ,
Pastor Carla

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:2-6)

Annual Report 2017

From the Pastor…

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.
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. (Ephesians 4: 4-6, 11-13, 15-16)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Amen.
It is difficult to work together. It is not easy being the Body of Christ here on earth with other believers. Yet, we are called to be exactly that. We are called to work together doing God’s Will here on earth. It has never been easy.
The earliest portions of the New Testament are letters to congregations who were struggling. They struggled with figuring out how to be a community. They struggled how to live together as followers of Jesus. They struggled with how to evangelize and relate to the world around them. They were experiencing angst, conflict, and uncertainty.
Two thousand years later, the core of our struggles as the Christian Church on earth is still pretty much the same. Even though our context looks drastically different from a 1st century Christian community, the basic struggles remain the same. Congregations (& denominations, synods, districts, regions, etc.) still struggle with the basic task of working together to follow God’s Will. There is still angst, conflict, & uncertainty. The Church has not yet hit perfection.
And it won’t hit perfection until the apocalypse. The Body of Christ is made up of forgiven sinners – humans beings who continue to be forgiven because they continue to sin. The church on earth will never reach perfection while still on earth. When it is no longer on earth, it also ceases to be the church on earth. This means we have to rely on the One who is perfect to help us do our best here on earth.
We are one and we are many. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:12) Logically, this reality seems diametrically opposed, yet the paradox does best describe our reality as the church. We are many voices working together to do one Will – God’s.
As many, we are blessed with a myriad of differing gifts. Together we can accomplish so much more than any of us would accomplish alone. This blessing of many gifts also has a side-effect: we do not do things the same way as one another.
The old adage, “if you want it done well, do it yourself” can be detrimental to our life together. Albeit God did do exactly that when it came to salvation. In order to save us – He did do it Himself. However, God has the distinct advantage of omnipotence. He alone rules on the definitive verdict of what ‘well’ or ‘right’ entails. He, and He alone, determines His Will. He alone is perfect.
Those of us who are not God lack that attribute. None of us are perfect. Humans usually equate ‘doing it well’ as doing it our way. We forget that we are all trying to live God’s way. And God is not required to do it our way. This attitude has been wreaking havoc in the lives of congregations for centuries.
It takes commitment, prayer, and a lot of divine intervention to counteract human pride and unconscious sabotage. The New Testament contains letter upon letter revealing the difficulties early congregations experienced. Most of those difficulties were self- inflicted. Being community has never been easy.
Yet, despite their challenges, they continued to proclaim the Gospel. They continued to seek out God’s Will and God continued to work through them, even using their foibles to further the Gospel. They did not give up. They did not let their differences deter them from the mission of the Church. If they had, the church would have ceased to exist during that first century of its existence. It obviously didn’t.
We too push forward. We will continue to face challenges, but we will face them head-on and trust that God continues to be active amongst us. We will continue to seek out God’s purpose for our community and reach to fulfil that purpose. We will continue to proclaim Christ in Word and Deed in our corner of His creation.
We have many blessings. We have many voices. We remain One Body in Christ. We are “called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified” by the Holy Spirit. We will find ways to live together in faith and mission – doing God’s Will. We will use our varying gifts together to be God’s field and building. Together we will act as One body to serve the one God.
The grace and peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
In Christ,
Pastor Carla

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:7-9)

February 2018

Then he (Jesus) said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Amen.
Once again, Lent is quickly approaching. Ironically, Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine’s Day this year. What greater love exists than the love of Christ given in absolution? “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.” The love shown in God’s gift of His Son surpasses all understanding.
As disciples, our lives emanate out of that amazing love. Discipleship is following Christ and spreading that love. It is not always easy. In fact, Jesus warned His disciples that it would rarely be easy. Various things in us and outside of us tempt us away from lives of discipleship. Life is full of challenges. We face these challenges with God’s help. We face these challenges and temptations with Christ Himself walking with us.
This year, our theme will be to explore some of the struggles of discipleship. Our Midweek Gospel canticle is ‘Take Up Your Cross, the Savior Said.’ We will hear from various witnesses to Christ’s crucifixion. Each week two soliloquys will react to an event described in the gospels. Following Jesus has always come with challenges. The struggles of generations past continue to speak to our own struggle to ‘take up the cross.’ We will conclude our service praying for God’s continued guidance through the challenges in our own lives of discipleship.
Each day, we begin anew, forgiven by the great love of Jesus. Each day, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we take up our cross and follow the one true God. Each and every day, the grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
In Christ,
Pastor Carla

“Take up your cross,” the Savior said,
“If you would my disciple be;
Forsake the past, and come this day,
And humbly follow after me.”
(Charles W. Everest, 1814-1877)

January 2018

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Amen.
Another calendar year is beginning. The busyness of harvest, Thanksgiving, and the holidays is winding down. Often following all the busyness of December, many people experience an adrenaline crash. After all the celebrating, vacation days, and schedule abnormalities we try to return to life ‘as usual.’ Many become introspective and focus on changes they may want to make in their lives.
Oftentimes our lives feel suddenly quiet like the wintery landscape in which we live. Winter has been associated with death across cultural boundaries. For some reason, when deciduous trees shed their leaves, crops have been harvested, animals go into hibernation, and things generally stop growing, people are reminded of death. When life slows down people think of death.
Usually from Thanksgiving to early Spring, there seems to be an increase in funeral home activity. As one person recently commented, “there are always those who don’t make it through the winter.” In generations past, winter in the north was a harsh reality one hoped to survive. That is often how we look at death – as harsh and cold.
We have also come to associate the time just after Christmas with new beginnings. Change is comparable to death and resurrection. The old passes away and the new arises. Daily life is full of deaths and resurrections. Change is an inevitable part of life on this earth. Our time here on this pilgrimage is anything but static. Daily we struggle against sin and evil. Every day God destroys all that opposes Him and raises us up in His image.
The apostle Paul is sharing a ‘mystery’ with the congregation in Corinth – we will all be changed. Death is not some harsh and cold finale, but a relocation from this pilgrimage on earth to our heavenly home. It is the mortal morphing into the immortal – the temporal converting into the eternal. The change is necessary. This transformation is part and parcel of true life in Christ. Death in Christ is a passage from life to everlasting life.
The incarnation is beginning of God’s kingdom being realized. In Christ’s birth, the eternal enters the temporal. In His death and resurrection, the temporal crosses the threshold into the eternal. Mortality takes on immortality. Jesus comes and takes us with Him into the realm of the imperishable. We are changed.
As we go through the seasons of our lives, we cling to the knowledge that Christ is doing this amazing thing. At times those seasons are as unpredictable as Minnesota weather, yet through all those seasons, God is at work – molding us, transforming us, leading and sustaining us on that journey. God is preparing us for His kingdom in heaven and here on earth. The seasons in our lives are part of the journey. The Holy Spirit is given to us to be our guide. The Spirit is our Advocate as we ebb through the turbulence of this life on earth as we journey toward our eternal home.
Just as Winter gives way to Spring, death gives way to resurrection. As turbulent as some of our ‘seasons’ can be, God remains steadfast and true – He is indeed “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

In Christ,
Pastor Carla

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (Psalm 46:1-3)

December 2017

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A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
(Isaiah 40:3-5)

 

 

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,       

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Amen.

 

Advent is a time of preparation. We are looking toward the coming of Christ. We remember His birth and look forward to His second coming.

 

There are many ways to prepare. Our lives are often so busy, that they seem anything but straight or level. Most American lives in December resemble an advanced motorcross bike racetrack more than a straight and level road.

 

We need the message of the prophets – the reminder to take time for the Lord. The reminder that Christ is indeed coming. We need the Holy Spirit to bulldoze through the craziness of our lives so that we are ready for God’s presence. As the world and the culture around us constantly pushes us to get busier and busier, we need those voices telling us to breathe and focus on God.

 

Recently as part of examining the third commandment and its explanation in the catechism, the confirmation class analyzed how they had spent their time the previous week. Afterwards, one student remarked, “I feel kind of bad now – God didn’t get much.”

 

During most weeks of the year, we fall short on the time we give to God. (That third commandment specifies 1/7 of our time each week be dedicated to gladly hearing and learning God’s Word.) Ironically, in December, when we are celebrating God manifesting Himself in human form, all the other cultural expectations can threaten our time with God even more.

 

I remember last year overhearing the Sunday School students being asked what the most important aspect of Christmas was. It took quite a while for the answer ‘Jesus’ to be expressed. They named many important aspects, but they had some difficulty in identifying ‘Jesus’ as the most important.

 

Children learn by observing the adults around them. Oftentimes they, and we for that matter, equate importance with time and energy. Think about all the different messages they inadvertently receive during the holiday season. Where do children see time and energy being spent by the adults closest to them? Where do you find yourself expending the most time and energy? If any of us were to analyze our time during December, many of us would chime in with the student who confessed, “I feel kind of bad – God didn’t get much.”

 

Advent marks the beginning of the Church year. Rather than (or if you are extra ambitious, along with) making traditional New Year’s resolutions, make an Advent resolution. Focus on the coming of the coming of Christ this Advent. Set aside some time for God amidst the various commitments, to-do lists, and errands.

 

There are many and various habits we can adopt to help open our eyes and ears to the coming of Christ during the busyness of the holidays. We can all find an approach that works for us if we look and try some. There are both printed and online devotionals available. There are rituals we can adopt to enjoy with family and/or friends. There are even apps that can be downloaded for the more tech savvy. Of course, I highly recommend that old stand-by – Sunday worship.

 

Think about what might mean to set aside 10-20 minutes a day to be together as a family (or ‘family unit’ of friends) during the chaotic month of December. Make that time sacred and include God. Included in this month’s newsletter is a blue bulletin-like sheet. Called ‘Lighting the Candles,’ it is a ‘simple form’ of readings, prayers, and songs to accompany the lighting of an Advent Wreath. It is designed to encourage family (or friends) to gather together to ‘keep that (God’s) word holy and gladly hear and learn it.’ (Luther’s Small Catechism – the 3rd Commandment)

 

Song suggestions from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship (a.k.a the plain-red hymnal) were provided by Sundays and Seasons. Lutheran Book of Worship (a.k.a. the old green hymnal) numbers have been added where available. Both congregations have more than plenty LBWs available to take home and use (and preferably keep for future use).

 

Whether your ‘family’ is young or old, shy or demonstrative, musical or tone-deaf, taking time together to hear Scripture, pray, and sing (or read aloud for those in the tone-deaf category) is beneficial. Marking the beginning and ending of that sacred time by the use of candles, delineates this time as special. (Battery operated candles are recommended if there are any budding pyromaniacs participating.) Gathering together as believers to spend with God quiets our hearts and focusses us on the true ‘reason for the season’ – the coming of Jesus Christ. He is truly the most important aspect of Christmas and our whole lives.

 

The grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

 

In Christ,

 

Pastor Carla

 

 

 

 

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’
(Mark 1:1-3)

November 2017

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100)

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Amen.
Each year we celebrate giving thanks as we traditionally bring in the harvest. Oftentimes we think about giving thanks and praise when things are going well. We also give thanks & praise when life plain stinks – when it is the most difficult to ‘make a joyful noise.’
No matter what the world or our experience tells us, we hear the reminder of the Psalmist, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” The Lord continues to be good on bad days (weeks, months, or years for that matter). The Lord continues to love on bad days. The Lord continues to be faithful on bad days.
It has always fascinated me to some extent how almost all the ‘lament psalms’ end in praise. These Psalms were composed during those moments in life when hope seemed to be long gone, yet they still end in praise. Somehow by the time the writers made it through all the railing at God, they circled back to praising Him – not for what had happened to them, but for who He is.
Paul reminds the Romans of that same reminder in different (albeit less poetic) language. Paul and other early followers of Christ experienced persecution and fear. Yet their praise of God is not dependent upon what is happening in their own lives, but upon who they have come to know Christ, (and therefore the whole of God) is. Jesus taught the disciples, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me;” (John 14:11a) They have taken heed of that reality. They have experienced the revelation of God in Christ. That understanding of who God is necessitates praise no matter what challenges they themselves face.
Life is full of loss and brokenness. There is a reason so many Psalms are laments. Ever since Adam and Eve, life here on earth has been imperfect. Paul and the other early Christians did not lead easy lives. All of us face challenges. We all face grief and loss. We face doubts and temptations. Oftentimes it is precisely when we have no desire to praise God that we need to the most – not for God’s sake, but for our own.
Praise reminds us who God is – even in the midst of those challenges and grief. In a broken world, God remains whole. In our crazy lives God remains sane. In lives that struggle with faith and doubt, God remains faithful. God and His love remain true. God continues to be ‘I AM.’ God doesn’t stop being God in the midst of brokenness.
The funeral liturgy includes a prayer petition, “Help us, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to life everlasting.” There are countless problems in this world that defy understanding. We pray that the Holy Spirit strengthens us enough to give praise in the midst of pain. In the very moments we weep, we pray that the Spirit sustain our faith.
Luther’s explanation to the 3rd Article of the Apostles’ Creed reads, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”
In all moments God blesses us with the Holy Spirit to sustain and strengthen our faith. By the power of the Spirit we continue to praise God. We continue to remind ourselves of the words of the Psalmists and the Apostle Paul. God is stronger than our grief. God is stronger than our fears. God is stronger than our doubts.
Shortly prior to reminding the Romans of God’s power to hold unto them, Paul reminded them of the Spirit’s role in their lives, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26) God sends the Holy Spirit to give people the voices to praise God in those moments when it is the most difficult.
Just as the Spirit helped the Psalmists circle back to praise, just as the Spirit kept up the hope of the early Christians, the Spirit intercedes for you. The Spirit fulfills for you the promise Jeremiah conveyed to the remnant of Israel, “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” God’s Spirit will help you turn your mourning, worry, fear, whatever else is troubling you, into praise. You will know God is God and God loves you. Nothing is able to alter that.
The grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

In Christ,
Pastor Carla

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)