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)

 

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October 2017

Sola fide – by faith alone
Sola Scriptura – by Word alone
Sola gratia – by grace alone
Solus Christus – by Christ alone
Soli Deo Gloria – glory to God alone

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Amen.
On October 31st of 1517, a young Franciscan monk posted a list of 95 thesis on the church door in Wittenberg in modern-day Germany. This list was intended as an invitation to church leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to discuss those 95 issues. Due to various political, technological, economic, and social realities and perceptions of the time, that list was not received as an invitation to discussion. The Reformation was born and history took a sharp turn.
One of the motifs of the Reformation is the Luther Rose used in Martin Luther’s coat of arms. The five petals of the ‘rose’ signify the 5 ‘solas’ – faith alone, Word alone, grace alone, Christ alone, to God alone be the glory. These ‘solas’ provide a succinct synopsis of the Biblical ideals of the Reformers. They continue to ground us in our confession of faith.
Leading up to the 500th anniversary of that fateful All-Hallows’ Eve, we will be focusing on those 5 ‘solas’ during October. Each Sunday we will examine one of these key principles. Looking at the past, the present, and into the future – these 5 ideals impact our lives of faith. You are invited.
The grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
In Christ,
Pastor Carla

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)

September 2017

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way. (Matthew 19:13-15)

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Amen.
We often think of literal children when we hear of Jesus blessing the children. That is one layer of the story. The layer many of us forget is that Jesus has made us all God’s children.
One characteristic that children have that really scares adults is a lack of fear. Children learn to be frightened of the world around them. I have even taught (or at least tried to teach) a few to be more cautious of their surroundings – for example I prefer they be afraid of speeding vehicles on County Road 19 when riding their bikes near Zion.
Yet as much as fear can be a tool to protect us, we often let fear rule us. Sometimes we allow fear to undermine our trust in God. God has promised to protect us. Our fears try to drown out God’s voice of assurance. Fear tries to convince us that we should trust our fears more than God. Discerning the difference between God-given common sense and faith-inhibiting fear is not easy.
Recently at a conference, a speaker mentioned an activity she did with the congregation she served. They kept an ongoing list consisting of two columns: way of fear & way of God. Whenever they have a decision to make, they revisit the list. They intentionally give voice to both their fears and God’s promise as part of their discernment process. By candidly taking into consideration both their fear and their faith, they have found themselves freer to hear God’s voice. Naming their fears releases some of the hold those fears have over them. Naming God’s promise reminds them of the power of the Holy Spirit that is promised to them.
Perhaps you may find this approach helpful your own lives. When you face decisions, you can name both your fears and God’s promise. It may not make discernment less painful, but it will most likely move it forward faithfully. The grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
In Christ,
Pastor Carla

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)

August 2017

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Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water… Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:10, 13-14)

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Amen.
Water has long since been an important symbol in the church. It represents cleansing, refreshing; it is a vital element of life. The bulk of our bodies consist of water. The bulk of the earth consists of water. It is integral to our survival.
Water takes center stage throughout a multitude of Bible stories. Starting with Genesis 1:2, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” There is only one verse, not even a full sentence, in the Bible before water is mentioned. The last chapter in the Book of Revelations (& of the Bible) is a lengthy description of the ‘River of Life.’ Scripture is enveloped by the image of water and water flows throughout the entire body of writings.
The altar icon at St Olaf depicts the ‘woman at the well.’ While it is not one of the focal stories at Vacation Bible School this summer, it is still a very well know and even beloved ‘water’ event described in the New Testament. Jesus uses the image of water to describe the gift of grace (and everything that goes with it) found in Him and Him alone. He is offering her a gift that is beyond her understanding. This very gift of ‘Life-giving water’ is what we, as the Church, are called to offer to the world in the name of Christ.
Recently I was pondering the language often used for evangelism & realized how inadequate our language really is. We talk about inviting, plugging-in, integrating, outreach, bringing in… There is a common denominator in so much of our ‘church evangelism’ language. Almost all of the traditional words imply a scenario in which we know better than someone else and must either fix or change outsiders. Our language establishes a system of insiders and outsiders. The very words we use tend to encourage the mindset that others must adapt to the way we do things.
The human tendency to delineate between insiders and outsiders is by no means new. It is deeply ingrained in all cultures whether they want to see it or not. Human sin leads us to focus more on differences than similarities. Human fear leads our minds to separate people into categories of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Our language, even when trying to overcome this tendency, reflects that urge.
Interesting enough, the woman at the well was – by all the cultural norms of the time – an outsider, even bordering on being an outcast. She was a Samaritan; “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” (John 4:9b) She was a woman; it was not appropriate for an unmarried man to address a female non-relative (especially not alone). She had been married multiple times; she herself does not consider the man with whom she lives her husband. Normally, women traveled to carry water in groups; this woman is alone. Many of these details indicate that this was not a highly regarded individual. In short, the woman at the well was someone whom most respectable people would have avoided. Yet Jesus interacts with her.
Jesus offers her the same gift he was offering the Jews. In contrast to Nicodemus, the Jewish teacher who visits Jesus by night, (John 3:1-21) this unnamed outcast believes. The woman at the well believes and shares the gift with her own village (many of whom presumably had judged her harshly in the past). The gift is greater than her status. Her faith does not make her an insider as opposed to an outsider; it redefines the whole system. There are no more ‘us’ and ‘them’ categories. There is a whole different category of ‘God’s children.’
Jesus told the woman at the well He had a gift for her. He had life-giving water. He gives life-giving water. You have been given this water. You have been given this life. You have been given faith. You were claimed as ‘God’s child’ in your baptism. Your daily life is lived in this water.
How do we wade in the water and splash that water onto the people around us? We know the value of this water Jesus offers. How do we live our daily lives in that water and give it to the people around us? How do we move beyond our human categories and into God’s Kingdom?
We were given a command, a calling. Jesus told the disciples (and us), “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Jesus is in the water with us and each day we pray that the Holy Spirit is guiding us to splash that water around. At times we may feel as though we treading water more than wading. We may even feel like we are drowning, but Jesus is in the water with us. We drink the life-giving water He gives. By the power of the Holy Spirit, rivers of living water will splash the world as they flow forth from our hearts.
The grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
In Christ,
Pastor Carla
(Jesus) cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37b-38)

July 2017

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And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Amen.
The American congregational scene has evolved into a membership oriented organizational model. In attempts to be orderly (normally not a bad thing) we orient our congregations and other organizational systems by mandating qualifications for voluntary enrollment.
Commonly these qualifications are laid out in this crazy thing called a constitution, whose sole purpose is to bring earthly order to the earthly manifestation of the church. Constitutions are intended to help bring order. They fall under the 14th Article of the Augsburg Confession. Constitutions are not salvific. Meeting the constitutional criteria of ‘active membership’ is not the same as being forgiven and claimed by God. It means one can vote, not that one is saved.
We all know this, but often we fail to recognize this in daily life. In many ways it is easier to grasp legalistic criteria rather than grasp great grace of God. It is obviously simpler to quantify constitutional criteria than quantify God’s grace. God’s immeasurable grace is by nature immeasurable. Obviously, constitutional criteria are easier to quantify. It can be tempting to fall back on what we can measure rather than rely upon what we cannot.
We set up criteria for membership. A danger of mandating minimum requirements is the simple reality that our human nature usually leans more toward the minimum rather than aiming beyond it. Another danger of membership is that as our society become more consumer based, we have also adopted that same mentality toward the church. Rather than viewing ourselves as participants in the church, we often think of ourselves as consumers of the church.
Paul’s analogy of the church as a body in 1 Corinthians may benefit from a little updating or expansion to meet our present circumstances. “As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:20‭-‬21 NIV) In a consumer society, the analogy might read: the foot cannot say to the head, “what are you going to do for me?” or the head to the foot, “what’s in it for me?” It is arguably the latter that has become more relevant in today’s North American church. We still claim self-sufficiency like the Corinthians, but we have the added self-absorption.‬‬‬‬‬‬
We view congregational membership in the same vein as AAA membership. We see constitutional criteria as minimum requirements for benefits. Unfortunately, this worldview is cancerous to the church. It infects, attacks, and attempts to cripple the Body of Christ. Opposition to the kingdom of God creeps into the lives of congregations in many forms. Even systems created to help the church can be used by evil to hinder its mission.
Jesus gave His disciples the mandate to ‘make disciples.’ Many of our systems focus on finding a way to quantify that mandate. The temptation is to confuse dollars in the plate, members on the books, and rear-ends in the pew with discipleship. Discipleship is more than those things. We can run into problems when we limit our understanding of discipleship to those quantifiable measures.
Discipleship, following Christ in faith, is not measurable by human standards. God could measure it if He chooses to, but several of Jesus’ parables (prodigal son, workers in the vineyard spring to mind) indicated that measuring & judging faith may be less important to God than it seems to be to us. Jesus certainly condemned human judging the faith of their neighbors. He frequently criticized that precise character flaw in the Pharisees.
The church was not created to serve constitutions. The church is the body of Christ. It embodies Christ. The Holy Spirit calls us to be the Church in the world. We participate in God’s mission; we participate in His saving work on this earth.
How do we move beyond legalism when it comes to congregational life? How can we move beyond a membership attitude and into a participation mindset? Even harder, how do we encourage participation without falling into the ditch of legalism? People tend to hear judgement quicker than grace. How do we make disciples without making Pharisees out of ourselves or one another? It is a challenge.
It is challenging to view one another as fellow participants. It can be a challenge to view even ourselves as participants. The rest of the world encourages us to be either consumers or observers. In God’s kingdom, we are workers, servants, disciples. We participate. This crucial change in mindset is not easy (or fast).
The challenge is to do God’s work. We are called to make disciples. We are called to be disciples. We are gathered together to participate in God’s kingdom and be his Body in the world. We are not consumers or observers – we are participants. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7) You are blessed for a purpose – for God’s purpose. You are part of something bigger than yourself. You are an active participant in what God is doing in the world. The Holy Spirit lives in you.
The grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

In Christ,
Pastor Carla

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)

June 2017

 

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

 

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,       

 

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

 

Long before ascending back to the heavens, Jesus promised to never leave the disciples orphaned. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the Holy Spirit is portrayed as an abstract, elusive force in God’s creation. The images of fire, wind, water as well as the image of a dove are used to portray this force that in many ways defies description.

 

Most, if not all, of creation requires light, air, and water to live. The very first verse of the Bible mentions the wind, water, and light. The first thing God did in creating the earth was to use wind to separate the water from the land and put light into the sky. The very images used for the Holy Spirit are rudimentary elements of creation. God even breathes his spirit into humans during creation.

 

All three can be serene elements in life. A gentle breeze on a sunny day sweeping in the scents of summer is soothing. The gentle lapping of waves against the lakeshore provides a blissful meditation. The melodies of timeless songs against the backdrop of a crackling campfire has ushered many toward peaceful night. Despite this beginning to sound like an ad for a meditation app, the emotions evoked by these images are very real. Fire, wind, and water do arouse beautiful images of serenity – at least sometimes.

 

They can also conjure images of brute force. It only takes seconds for a tornado to obliterate a homestead or town. A weak levy or flooded river will annihilate everything in its path. A single bolt of lightning (or careless match) can devastate and char thousands of acres of wildlife (and people) habitat. These images are just as real as the serene ones.

 

It is a struggle to describe the Holy Spirit because it is difficult to understand the Spirit. Within the Spirit, the serene empowerment coexists with the inexplicable potency of God. The Holy Spirit falls outside the ‘comfort’ or ‘safe’ zone for most of us. The Spirit refuses to be contained. It defies our words. It befuddles our logic and even our senses. Jesus told Nicodemus, “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.” (John 3:8) The Holy Spirit is on the loose in the world. It is always here and active, but also elusive and unpredictable. We, as human beings, don’t always cope well with those combined attributes.

 

We can better describe the works of the Spirit than the actual Spirit. Just as it easier to describe the effects of the wind, it is also easier to describe the fruits or activity of the Spirit.

 

Oftentimes the fruits of the Spirit are woven into the very fabric of our lives. Paul described the fruits of the Spirit to the Galatians as, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22b-23a) (For a musical version, track down your nearest Sunday School student.) None of those ‘fruits’ sound too radical, maybe not always easy, but not outlandish. Paul lists attributes that resemble basic decency.

 

However, even the work of the Spirit can seem outrageous at times. The Day of Pentecost was one of those outrageous times. Can you imagine being in Jerusalem, seeing tongues of fire, feeling and hearing a violent wind, and hearing a bunch of hicks (no offense to the disciples, but that is how the urbane tourists would have viewed them) suddenly speaking fluently in your own language? The reaction was split – was it an act of God or the results of alcoholic overindulgence? Was it the Holy Spirit or just the run-of-the-mill liquid kind of spirits? Peter preached an awesome sermon convincing at least 3000 visitors that it was the former.

 

The Holy Spirit is powerful. In the Apostles’ Creed, we confess: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. Luther’s explanation to the 3rd article of the Creed reads as follows:

 

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.

 

The Holy Spirit is loose in this world and extremely industrious – ostensibly the quintessential workaholic. There is absolutely nothing within the scope of life, faith, and the church that is not wholly dependent upon the power of the Spirit. The Spirit holds it all together. It holds us together. The power of God flows into this world in the form of the Holy Spirit, sometimes gently oozing and other times stalwartly surging, into the world and our lives.

 

The Spirit is alive. The Spirit is here. It is your advocate. Bask in God’s Spirit. Blaze, soar, and soak in God’s glory. The grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

 

In Christ,

 

Pastor Carla

 

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:1-4)

 

May 2017

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Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,       

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

The Church has been plagued by human sin from day one. Paul wrote these words to the congregation in Corinth because they were fighting over one another’s gifts and trying to rate them and each other. The Corinthian Christians were arguing over who was the greatest. Jesus reprimanded the disciples for a similar argument they had on their way to Capernaum (Mark 9:33-35). The spirit of competition started early among the believers. Rather than focusing on Christ, they fell into the temptation to compare and rank one another. A temptation, as Jesus informed His disciples, that hampers and contradicts the Kingdom of God.

God sends His Holy Spirit to “call, gather, enlighten, & make holy” us all. Yet we struggle to work together as His people to utilize our ‘enlightenment’ for the good of His world. We can fall into the same temptation as the disciples and the Corinthians to value the varying gifts of others in a way that is counter-productive to God’s mission. It can be tempting for any congregation or larger church body to create a functional if not official hierarchy that values some gifts (or people) at the expense of others.

Paul uses the metaphor of a human body to explain to the Corinthians the error of their practices. When we devalue or even take for granted the gifts of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are undermining the work of the Body of Christ.

The popular cliché of claiming the ability to do something ‘with one hand tied behind my back’ is used to demonstrate how extremely easy something is for the speaker, because tasks are more difficult without all available tools. In other words, most things are easier with two hands than with one. Most undertakings are enhanced when all available resources are utilized.

Jesus summed the work of the Kingdom in when he gave the ‘Great Commission’ (Matthew 28:18-20) to the disciples. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He gave them a colossal mission and promised them the authority and abilities necessary to accomplish that mission.

The work of the Kingdom is challenging. Making disciples of all nations can seem daunting. Teaching the world to follow Jesus seems formidable as we struggle in our own lives each day.  The ‘Great Commission’ demands we tap into all the gifts of the church and work together.

The challenging question remains. How do we use our varieties of gifts and services to proclaim the Gospel together? The answer to that question is never static, but always evolving or re-forming. As congregations change, people change, communities change, and gifts change, also changes how we mobilize our gifts for the kingdom of God. Utilizing the variety God gives us entails constant prayer, examination, and reform.

There are several key precepts to keep in the forefront as we live in Christian community.

·        Pray. Rely on the Holy Spirit. Christ promised us the authority and ability to do the work of the Kingdom. Trust that promise.

·        Keep the mission of the church – to make disciples of Christ – front and center at all times. Christ is Lord. We follow Him and Him alone, no matter how it may impact our own personal or even communal self-interests.

·        Confess our failings and learn from them. We are human. We will sin, but we have forgiveness in the Lord. We are participants in God’s Kingdom. His Kingdom is not dependent upon us. Remember that God’s weakness is stronger than our strength.

·        Keep our eyes and ears open to witness the gifts of those around us. In our society, we are urged to compete with others in so many facets of our lives. Be encouraged rather than threatened by the gifts of others. God has blessed each of us differently and uses those gifts to His glory. Honor and nurture all gifts of all people, there will come a time and place for each one to be indispensable. Fan the flame of both your own and your neighbor’s light. Together they do the work of God’s Kingdom.

·        Pray. Pray. Pray. Christ is with us. The Holy Spirit guides us. His Will is done.

You are the Body of Christ. You are the church together. Together you make disciples. The grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

In Christ,

Pastor Carla

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. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

 

April 2017

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So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord — the King of Israel!”  (John 12:13)

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,

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

Despite being forewarned several times during their time following Jesus, the disciples still took the various events of Holy Week at face value. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, they thought the tide had turned and He (& they) were being welcomed with open arms. When Jesus was arrested, they were scared and ran. When Jesus was crucified, they lost hope. They mourned and hid in fear. Jesus had told them repeatedly that all things, including the resurrection, had to happen. They still reacted in the moment. Despite being briefed beforehand, they remained unprepared.

Recently, while starting the ‘Passion of the Christ’ movie for the confirmation class to watch, one of the students asked if it was scary. I jokingly responded, “spoiler alert – Jesus dies.” They then accused me of ruining the entire movie. My response was, “Yep, I do that every year on Palm Sunday.”

As we approach Holy Week, we are not expecting it to end differently this year. As we hear the crowd shouting, “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday, we already know their cheers will turn to shouts of “Crucify him!” We hear Jesus informing His disciples that one will betray Him, they will all run and deny Him. We know he’s referring to Judas, they do run, and Peter really does deny Him. We already know He will drink from this cup as we hear Him pray to God for it to pass from Him in the Garden. Perhaps most importantly, as we hear His final words from the cross, we know He will rise.

The ‘spoiler alerts’ do not ruin the story. Our familiarity with the events of Holy Week add to the impact the chronology has on us. The story works on us precisely because we do know what happens next. The impact of the betrayal is heightened by the knowledge that Judas immediately regretted it. Peter’s insistence that he will follow Jesus anywhere is tempered by our awareness of his forthcoming weakness of will. Jesus’s heartrending recitation of Psalm 22, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is heard by ears that realize God does not ultimately forsake Him. The stone is rolled to seal the tomb with the expectancy of the stone being rolled away again in three days.

This translates into your daily life as well. You can live lives of faith because you know the rest of your story. As written in First Peter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

When you were baptized, you were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. You were claimed as God’s child and blessed with the “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” inheritance that comes with that identity. This impacts your pilgrimage here on earth and the future glory that will come. Every day you experience the living hope that comes through Christ. Each and every time you partake in the Sacrament of the Altar, Christ has promises you “forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.” You are given the rest of your story.

Your story will not always be easy. There will be trials and suffering in this earthly existence. This life will hand you great joy, great sorrow, and everything in between. You will experience many, if not all, the highs and lows that the author of Ecclesiastes describes.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;  a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;  a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;  a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Your story will also rest on the promises of God given to you in Christ Jesus. Keeping with long lists. Paul reminded the Romans, “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) Nothing described in Ecclesiastes or Romans is capable of separating you from the love you have in Christ. Your life rests in God’s hands. You live and die confident of the following spoiler alert — you live in Christ.

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

In Christ,

Pastor Carla

…the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. (Luke 24:5b)

 

March 2017

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Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. (Joel 2:12-13)

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,

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

“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The call to repentance is repeated for each individual on Ash Wednesday all over the world and in a multitude of languages. As we embark on our Lenten Journey, we begin with that same call to repentance.

This call to repentance contains two critical reminders.  First, we are mortal beings who will one day die. Secondly, God, abounding in steadfast love, offers us forgiveness and life.

Sometimes we take for granted just how powerful and crucial the act of confession and forgiveness really is. It is something we know is important enough to do every Sunday, but how many times do we go through the motions rather than really listening to what we are saying and what is being spoken to us.

Repentance is the experience of the death of the old human. Absolution (forgiveness) is the resurrection of the new human. “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.” (1 Cor 15:47) The Old Adam (1st man), with all his sin and imperfection, is destroyed daily. In his place, a New Adam (2nd man), one in the perfect image of Christ, emerges. We experience this activity in our lives each day.

Confession and forgiveness is a matter of life and death. We confess our sins, things we have done or left undone which lead us into death. We receive God’s forgiveness, which leads us into life and salvation. That is the power of confession and forgiveness. More accurately, that is the power of forgiveness. Christ forgives our sins and gives us new life. We repent because we have heard the promise of Christ’s forgiveness. We repent because we are confident that God is “gracious and merciful.”

Another liturgical moment in which we remember coming from dust is at the graveside. We are once again reminded of our own human frailty as well as Christ’s promise of redemption. We know that being one with Christ means we never die again. Even though we came from dust and shall one day return to dust, our true inheritance is being with the Lord forever. God gives life.

As you embark on your Lenten Journey this year, the grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Let your light shine. Amen.

In Christ,

Pastor Carla

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;

in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

Wash me through and through from my wickedness,

and cleanse me from my sin.  (Psalm 51:1-2)

February 2017

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He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:12)

Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,            

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

Traditionally, God has met His leaders on mountains. Abraham would travel up the mountain to make sacrifices. Moses met with God on mountaintops. Elijah communed with God on the mountain and left this world in a whirlwind from atop a mountain while Elisha watched. Micah and Isaiah called the Israelites to go up the mountain to worship the Lord. There is a strong compulsion in the Old Testament to climb up mountains to be closer to God. God is distant and the path to meet Him requires a lengthy and arduous journey.

Jesus came off the mountain and entered our valley. He was born homeless and out of wedlock. He resided in Egypt as an alien. He socialized and even ate with “sinners and tax collectors.” He touched and healed the ill and the unclean. He was killed as a criminal. John wrote, And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (John 1:14a) Jesus did become human and He lived among the least of us. Christ embarked on a lengthy, arduous, and painful journey to come to us. He left the mountain to live in the valley.

At the end of February, we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord. This was a mountaintop experience for the disciples who were with Him. They were so filled with such awe that they suggested setting up camp up there. They were overwhelmed by witnessing the glory of God in such a profound way and wanted to cling to that experience.

Yet Jesus sent them back down into the valley, literally and figuratively. They came down from the mountain and Christ led them into the ultimate valley. We move into Lent toward the deepest valley of Christ’s life and the lives of His disciples – the journey to Jerusalem – the journey to His cross.

Life has mountains and valleys. God alone gives the power to thrive in both the valleys and the mountains. He even strengthens us when we are climbing. He protects us when we are falling.  He is present in our lives throughout all the many and various trials and tribulations. He travels with us and holds onto us when we lose our grip. It is His presence and power that smooths out our lives and sustains us through this earthly existence

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

In Christ,

Pastor Carla

Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; (Luke 3:5)