Monday, December 3, 2012

Happy New Year, people of God!  Happy New Year! 
Today is the first day of our new year in the church, the first day of Advent. 
  • The scenery has changed here in the front of the church. 
  • The candles have changed. 
  • The colors has changed. 
  • And we are invited to embark, once again, upon something old ... the story of Jesus ... we are invited to engage, once again, in something new ... the story of Jesus. 

And an incredible story this is ... it is the story of birth, and of life, and of mission, and of death, and of life again.  It is the story of our lives, the lives of the faithful, the lives of creation.  And we, you and I, are blessed to be in this place of proclamation to share that story with one another.   And we, you and I, are called to be sent out of this place to declare this story to all of creation. 

Happy New Year, people of God!  Happy New Year!

Often, as we look forward to a new year, we also look back on the previous year ...
  • to reflect on lessons learned,
  • to remember our challenges and celebrate our blessings, and
  • to see from where we have come and look to where our journey leads.

I have to share with you, that this past week at Bethel, has given us plenty to reflect upon, to remember, to celebrate, to move ahead into our new year.  For those of you who were not here this past Sunday, during the announcements, we shared, among others, these three things:
  1. our 105 year old saint, Margaret Alice Thone had died peacefully in her sleep, the previous day.
  2. our expectant family, the Chovan-Spences’, had announced the birth of Grayson Robert, the previous day.
  3. our congregation and community were invited into the next phase of our long awaited vision and mission process, led by our consultants from 5 Deep.

As I look back at this past week, I see that we are a blessed community, and we have so much to share and to live into, together.  And for this, I am deeply grateful. 

On Monday, I joined the Thone family to plan a celebration of faith and life of this wonderful miracle and gift from God, Margaret Thone.  What an incredibly faith-filled, inspirational, and fun-loving woman!  She died as she lived, at peace in her world, with family around her, and believing in the firm foundation of faith on which she stood. 

On Friday, as we celebrated her life here on earth among us, we heard stories of her humor, her love, her values, her hobbies, her husband Henry, her service to others, her faith, and her ever growing family. 

We celebrated one who was among us on this earth.  And Margaret’s faith and Margaret’s life can serve as a reminder that we too celebrate the One who once joined us on this earth. Jesus, who lived among us and taught us God’s intentions for human beings and for relationships. 

Happy New Year Margaret!  Enjoy your new adventure in heaven, and thank you, dear God, for the gift, the birth, the l-o-n-g life, the death, and the eternal life of this beautiful saint.

Last Sunday after worship, I took a baby shawl knitted by our Prayer Shawl minister to Grayson Chovan-Spence.  Grayson is a beautiful baby, 8lb, 2oz, 20 inches long, with brown hair and the deepest and darkest eyes. 

He was about 12 hours old when I first held him, and just beginning to notice the changes in his little world.
  • Listening to his mama’s voice and my voice,
  • screaming a little when given one of his first shots, and
  • completely blessed as his family totally fell in love with this wonderful miracle and gift from God. 

We celebrate one who is among us on this earth, today.  And the fact that Grayson was not only born into the Chovan-Spence family, but also born into the Bethel community (and will be baptized here soon) can serve as a reminder to us that we too celebrate the One who joined us on this earth, in the form of a baby named Jesus. The same Jesus who continues to delve into our everyday lives as Holy Spirit and as faith, here and now.

Happy New Year, Grayson.  Welcome to creation, we are so glad you are here!  Thank you, God, for the gift, the birth, the life of Grayson, and for the faith he will be brought up in along side and with his big brothers, Gavin and Gabriel.

Friends, I wonder if you are seeing the pattern God has offered throughout this past week, as we start our new church year. 
  • This season of Advent is about celebrating the one who was - Jesus, who lived among us years ago. 
  • This season of Advent is about celebrating the one who is - Jesus, who lives among us today, in the form of Holy Spirit, in the form of shared faith and prayer, in the form of the body of Christ, which joyfully includes Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church! 
  • This season of Advent is about celebrating the one who is to come - Jesus ... who promises in our Gospel lesson for today to come back again to live among us, to move into our neighborhood, to welcome us and invite us, once again, into the life and faith and love that is our gift from God.

And what does this gift look like?  What does this life and faith and love look like here at Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church? 
  • Well, it looks like faithful people of God sharing our hopes and dreams as we venture into a new day, a new vision, and new mission with our God.
  • It looks like 67 people filling out surveys ~ helping us understand our community, prayerfully and openly sharing who we are and from where we have come ~ in effort to learn where our journey with God and community leads.
  • What is to come looks like 30 people, intergenerationally, joining together yesterday morning, for a congregational and community workshop. 
  • It is where we explored collective values from which to move,
  • offered various ideas and heartfelt longings, and shared our hopes and dreams for who we are and who we are to become. 

If you have not yet learned about what God has started to create among this community, please take the time to stop by the portable walls in the narthex today and over the next two weeks. 
  • Talk to one another about what you see. 
  • Share feedback with one another and on post it notes. 
  • Be a part of our future, today. 
All are welcome to help us see what God is up to here in our community, in our neighborhood, in our congregation, in our lives.

So we celebrate who we are to become as a part of the family of God.  Knowing we are not alone, as thousands of faith communities work to find avenues to spread the love of God in ways that are relevant, foundational, serving, welcoming, and responsive to the here and now, in all of creation. 

We celebrate knowing that our God will come again and again, into our lives, poking and prodding us to live into the truth that
  • God was with us,
  • God is with us, and
  • God will come again in glory to be among us, forever. 

This is our gift, this is our call, this is our life as people of God. 
This is our invitation into the new church year. 
This is our opportunity to represent, represent the God who loves us more than we are able to comprehend. 
This is our season of anticipating the birth of a baby ~ a baby ~ who proves to be the epitome who we were, who we are, and who we are to be.

Happy New Year, people of God!  Happy New Year!

With you, for Christ,

Pastor Brenda 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Why this Lutheran Pastor is voting NO and NO

For those of you who know me, the fact that I am voting NO twice in November does not come as any surprise.  I talk, breathe, and encourage love, equality, justice, and integrity, both as a child of God and as a citizen of these United States.  However, allow me to elaborate on both constitutional amendments that are on our ballots in November.

"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?"

Recently I attended an Issues Forum in order to learn more about this amendment.  I heard from the Vote YES and Vote NO sides.  Is it true that some folks who are not eligible to vote tried to vote in the last six years?  Yes, this is true.  Is the number significant?  No, it is not. 

Here is the rub that the legislation is trying to “fix” through this amendment measure:  very few people who are on probation for a felony, and therefore, not eligible to vote, have come to the polls to vote.  Most have never been told that they are not eligible to vote!  To me, this seems fixable through some education of probation officers and people on probation, as well as some shared information between the probation office and the voter registration office. 

Instead, our legislature has placed on the ballot a measure with no real plan of implementation!  We are asked to place into our constitution something that is not well define, will likely cost small voting districts a lot of money they do not have, and will (whether intentional or not) prevent eligible people (like the elderly, people in poverty, and victims of domestic violence) from casting their legal and legitimate vote. 

I will be voting NO because this measure is trying to put a body cast on something that simply needs a stitch or two.  Please, vote NO, and send this measure back to the legislature so it can be repaired more appropriately, with less money, and without discriminating against our fellow citizens.

“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as marriage in Minnesota?”

For personal and professional reasons, I have been involved in the defeat of this amendment for a long time. Friends, there is already a law in MN that prevents same-gender couples from being married.  
  • I fail to understand the need for this hurtful information/definition to be placed in our constitution.  
  • I fail to understand how my relationship somehow threatens the relationships made between one man and one woman.  
  • I fail to understand anyone wanting to place a restriction of rights within a constitution full of the protection of rights. 

Beyond all those ideas, as a child of God, I long for the inclusion and love of our faith and of our God.  
  • When my siblings in Christ declare that the Bible defines marriage as between one man and one woman, I must ask about the examples of King Solomon, Abraham, and Jacob (just to name a few) who had more than one wife, at the same time.  
  • When my siblings in Christ profess that the defeat of this bill will hurt the children of husbands and wives, I wonder about the children of same-gender couples (are these children any less precious?).  
  • When my siblings in Christ tell me that they want to save marriage for the heterosexual couples, and offer civil unions for the me ... I must ask, “when has 'separate but equal' ever worked in this country?”

“For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believes in Jesus may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Jesus.       John 3:16-17

Friends, I was born the way I am and nothing can change that for me or for you.  I am a part of the world God created, and no one can change this beautiful truth.  There is not any kind of exclusion in the world God redeems.  
  • You are a part of this world.  
  • I am a part of this world.  
  • My siblings voting for this amendment are a part of this world.  
  • And folks who will not vote at all are a part of this world.  
God’s love and salvation are for all people, without exception. 

I am voting NO because I believe in a God who loves all people, without exception, and I believe in a country and a state who, deep down, are not interested in limiting the freedom and responsibility that comes with loving another human being.  Please join me in voting NO, and stop this attempt to limit what love looks like in our state. 

Yes, I am voting NO twice on November 6th, and I hope and I pray that you will join me.

With you, for Christ,

Pastor Brenda

Friday, September 14, 2012

Standing on the pew for a different perspective

Friends, today is RENEWAL Sunday.  It is a time when we gather together again for a new program year.  A time when we are given the opportunity to look at our mission again, maybe ... surely ... in a different way. 
And although it is true that we do some things very, very well!  And we celebrate those talents and gifts this day, ... it is also true that there are people in our pews, on our rolls, in our neighborhood and in these cities and suburbs who may not feel welcomed, connected or included in our ministry. 

And although I, your new pastor, am a known quantity here at Bethel, having served as your CYF Minister for near 5 years, I am also here ~ clearly detailed in my letter of call ~ to challenge each and everyone of us to take the risk of looking at our mission and our future in a different way.  

• To take a different view at who we are now and who we might become in the future.
• To step into the shoes of those we would like to join us in mission and ministry, and see our mission expand, renew, and grow.
• To claim our lives as the family of Christ in new and substantial ways.

Does this mean that we have to let go of all that we are and have become ... absolutely not.
• Jesus did not leave the chosen people behind. 
• He did not stop teaching, leading, healing, and loving people. 
• But he was willing to expand the invitation, take some risks in society and be open to new and important opportunities. 

If you have taken the time to read the Herald these last two months, you would have seen that the five mutual expectations that are a part of my call as your pastor and our congregational call includes:

1. Create and implement a mission and goals statement
2. Give attention to worship settings and music
3. Expand our ministry to neighbors of all ages
4. Expand our community partnerships, and
5. Maintain our open, welcoming and inviting atmosphere.

These are our mutual expectation.  Expectations that our call committee and Board of Administrators have presented to this congregation and me, and by congregational vote and acceptance of a call, our next steps are clear. 

Last month, our Board of Administrators and Endowment Committee, both, agreed to assist us on our number one journey, to create and implement a mission and goals statement for this congregation, by agreeing to hire a professional consultant to assist us in finding what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do. 

The task force, working on this goal, will begin working with this outside consultant this month, and hopes to invite each and every one of you into listening and information gatherings in October or November.  So, here is our challenge before those gatherings. 

Look at who we are in a different way.  Step into one anothers’ shoes in the next several weeks. 

• Those who are young, try to understand the perspective of the not-so-young, and you who are not-so-young, see us from the eyes of a child.

• You who live outside of South Minneapolis, sit in our front or back yards for awhile and get to know our neighbors and our neighborhood in new ways.

• You who live in South Minneapolis, take the long way to Bethel some Sunday and think about what inspires you to get up that much earlier to be a part of this faith community.

• Straight folks and white folks and seeing folks and “abled” folks, step into Mary and my shoes, or Teondre's shoes, or Craigs's shoes, or Shelia’s shoes, and see what it is like to live a life where discrimination or misunderstanding is an everyday ocurrance.

• And we, (Sheila, Craig, Teondre, Mary and I) we promise to step into your shoes, and see what your heart says about those who are different from you.

Our mission as a family of God for the next several weeks is to look at who we are and who we are called to be in a renewed way. 

From a different perspective. 

And to see how our eyes and hearts and spirits are challenged, opened and renewed. 

• Maybe we will better understand the foundation one which we stand.
• Maybe we will see something we have never thought of before.
• Maybe we will see in ourselves a talent or gift we have not yet shared.

• Surely, as we see in our gospel lesson for today, we will see how we are all a part of God’s story and how God is inviting us to be renewed in mission and in ministry.

Last month at our leadership meetings, we shared a devotion with one another entitled “Living Transformationally”. 

In part, this devotions says the following:
“Jesus invites us to walk the path of love by our trust and selflessness... see that we could be living and loving differently than before.  ... As Gandhi said, “We must seek to be what we want to become.” 

• “When Jesus declares you new, you are that already.  We can change - our habits, our practices, our thinking - and let the newness in. 
• Our congregation can change - in worship, in outreach, in openness - and let the newness in. 
• Our world can change - in justice, with peace, with community - and let the newness in. 
• [God’s] grace has made this possible.” 

Let us live into renewal, mission and ministry, together. 

From one another’s perspective, and in different ways.

Creator help us.  Jesus lead us.  Spirit inspire us.

So be it.  Amen

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Faith v Religion

On Friday, I posted a question on my and Bethel’s facebook page that asked this:  “In your opinion, is there a difference between faith and religion.  If so, what are the differences?  What are the similarities?  If not, say more.”   To see all the answers, feel free to look at my FB page, or ask for a copy.  But let me share a few answers with you:

“Faith is blind and free.  It is personal. Religion, however, is organized and controlled.”

“Faith is a gift that must be nurtured; religion is (hopefully) faith made visible.”

“Faith equals trust.  Faith/trust is more of an active kind of thing that ebbs and flows, changes and grows, and gets put to use in daily life.  Religion is the framework we use to organize people and ideas around a particular belief or value.”

“Faith is a gift, something innate.  Religion is more organized and ritualized.  I may not buy organized religion part and partial, but my faith is always strong.”

In our text for today, Jesus exposes the differences between the organization of religion and the gift of faith. 

He is asked a question about the ritual washing of hands before one eats.  However, this is not the question Jesus answers. 

Instead, Jesus initiates a discussion this is clearly a part of our lives today.  He looks at the broader foundation from which the question originates. 

Most broadly, what is faith and what is religion? 
• What is trust in God and what is the practice of that trust?
• Does our saying YES to God have to include our saying YES to human made interpretation of the laws and ordinances that are God’s gifts to us?
• Can there be religion without faith?  Or faith without religion?

Friends ... what is faith?  (The congregation answered)

• Faith is trust in God. 
• The object of our faith is God. 
• Therefore, faith is a verb. 
• Faith is about our relationship with God. 
• It is something we participate in. 

What, then, is religion?  (The congregation answered again) 

Faith is initiated by God, a gift from God, practiced as we say YES to God and to God’s Word.
• This is not to say that religion is unnecessary. 
• However, religion is impossible without faith. 
• Religion is the practice of our faith. 
• It is the structure of our worship and the exercise of our doctrines, rituals and traditions. 
• It is the framework that gives us order as we trust our God, honor our God, and build our relationship with God ~ individually and communally. 

In our text, Jesus challenges the object of faith... both for the scribes and Pharisees who approached him, as well as for us ... as followers of God. 

Jesus wonders out loud who or what we trust in.  Do we trust in our relationship with God?  Or do we trust in our ritual, our tradition, the ways we have always done things? 

Which, in and of itself, is not bad.  Unless, it gets in the way of our faith in God ... our relationship with God ... the output of our faith. 

This is what Jesus is talking about when tells us what comes out of a person, how our hearts have the capacity to be divisive, untrustworthy, thieving, deceitful, and the like.

But, if our heart is driven by our faith, our relationship with God, then what comes out of us, as children of God is very different from the list in verses 21-22 ... Instead of wickedness, envy, pride, folly ... the output of our faith is what? 

(more answers)

Exactly.  So Jesus reminds us, in the Gospel of Mark, and every day, that we must remember that GOD is the object of our faith. 
Faith is a gift from God. 

And as faith is the foundation of our lives, the output of our lives include (... the list the congregation gave .... love, forgiveness, mercy, a listening ear, a hug, a prayer, justice work, proclamation, graceful engagement, helping the other, giving, ...)

Are we able to have the faith of a child?

Are we able to faithfully proclaim our relationship with our God without hesitation? 

Are we willing to exalt our God who gives us all that we need, and claims us so that we know whose we truly are? 

God help us in faith so that our answers are YES, YES and YES.

So be it.  Amen

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

We are what we eat????

In part, some thoughts on John 6: 51-58. 

John attempts to seduce us into the mystery we proclaim each week just before we devour Christ’s body and blood ... we say ourselves that the mystery of faith is that Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. 

Do we really know what all of that means? 
Are we able to comprehend all that God is in Jesus Christ? 
Are we truly capable to break down the mystery that is our salvation? 

Or, are we invited to admit that we cannot do this alone?

We produce barriers that prevent us from seeing the whole and awesome picture of who our God truly is.

So this invitation, this seduction pulls us toward the mystery of what this bread and wine is really all about.  What does it really mean to taste the body and blood of our Savior. 

What does this gift do to us, for us, with our faith and with our lives? 

It is a mystery.  Yet, here we are.
Praising the God of mystery.
About to devour the bread and wine that is Jesus’ sacrifice.
About to be strengthened in love so that we too may love.

Maybe we do not need to understand the mystery, the way in which yeast works, the growth that Jesus gives us here ... but instead, as we are invited, we just need to devour it, in faith.

You have heard the term, “we are what we eat”... yes?

Could it be that this invitation into the mystery of Jesus is as simple as “we are what we eat?”  If we unpack this, what could that truly mean? 

We try to be aware of what we eat.  We try to eat a healthy diet so that our body is strengthened and not sabotaged.  When we eat our fruits and vegetables the components of that food is broken down, and they nourish every part of our bodies so that we can do many, many things.

So, what about when we take Jesus into our very lives in this worship service, in prayer, and at this Holy Table?   This bread and wine,

Jesus thus becomes a part of the very fiber of our being, and we are nourished by his life-giving love. 

Our spirits and our souls get to feast on the wondrous love of God, a love who sends God’s only son to save us from sin and death. 

 In this meal, we are invited to devour the restorative power of the Holy Spirit who works in us and through us, even when we least expect it.

So, let us be so seduced, seduced to take Christ thoroughly into our lives, so that we can live in the joy and peace of our God.

This is the radical invitation that Jesus offers us in our text for today. 

In the midst of his ministry he says, Come, for all is now ready.  Eat my body and drink my blood and be blessed with the mystery that is my gift to you. 

As human beings, we don’t understand the extent of this love. 

As human beings, we only hope that when faced with an emergency, we are, in fact, able to love, truly love like Jesus loves.

As human beings, we cannot love this way without the help of our Savior ... and so we come. 

We come to this table, invited by Jesus,
To be strengthened in love so we too can love.
To be forgiven of our sins, so that we too can forgive.
To be saved from death, so that we too might live.

We approach this mystery not knowing all that it means ... but knowing that it is Christ who invites us, who seduces us and who calls us to become like Christ ... today, tomorrow, and forever.

It is a mystery.  It is a wonder.

So be it.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Eternal Life and More Prayers:

Soren Kierkergaard, a 19th century Danish philosopher, theologian, poet and social critic once told a parable about a duck church.  You heard me correctly, a duck church. 
You see, there was this community of ducks who waddled off to duck church to hear the duck preacher. 
  • This duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the ducks WINGS TO FLY. 
  • With these wings, the duck preacher proclaimed, there was nowhere the ducks could not go. 
  • With those wings they could, each and every one of them, soar to new heights and see the world differently than they had ever seen it before!  
  • Shouts of “Amen” were quacked throughout the duck congregation at this good and truth-filled news. 
  • There was excitement in the air.  And, at the conclusion of the service the ducks left commenting on the message of having wings. 
  • They collectively rejoiced at the good news as they waddled back home.  BUT, they never flew.
It seems our duck community was a little STUCK in the status quo.  Stuck in what they had been doing, maybe for their entire lives.

They heard the good news of having wings, and heard what this gift could do for them.  The heard how that gift could change their lives.  They even rejoiced in what they heard!
  • But, did they truly understand the good news? 
  • Did they take seriously the invitation to fly? 
  • Did they truly comprehend the encouragement to get un-stuck and soar in such a way that their world could literally be turned inside out and upside down? 
It seems our duck community is missing something.  Something between hearing and understanding.  Something of importance.  Something of life.
In the Gospel lesson for today (John 6:35-51) Jesus proclaims that all people, all of creation, has been given to him from God, the Creator.  And the will of God is that Jesus not lose a single piece of the cosmos as Jesus moves into the drama and passion of saving the world. 
  • God gives Jesus you,
  • God gives Jesus me,
  • God gives Jesus the questioners by the sea,
  • and the men, women and children,
  • and the past, present and future,
and Jesus has all intentions of accepting, embracing, and engulfing all that God has given him.  Instead, Jesus will do whatever it takes to save every single soul, and ensure that all of creation
  • has the opportunity to LIVE into the love of our Creator. 
  • has the opportunity SOAR in grace of God
  • has the opportunity FLY as one named and claimed by God ... looking at life from a different perspective ... the perspective of ETERNAL LIFE WITH GOD.
Why?  Because eternal life with God is both about the here and now and about our futures.  It promises that we will never remain STUCK in this life without the promise of being UNSTUCK eternally with our God who loves us beyond our understanding.

Eternal life is a promise to be with God beyond this life, AND it is a promise of God being with us throughout our life here on earth!

Does that mean we will never have hardships or illness or unemployment?  No.  But it does mean that God is with us in our stuggle and our healing and our job-search.
  • Eternal life promises that God laughs with us, suffers with us, celebrates with us, and cries with us.
  • Eternal life guarantees that God sits with us in our fear, stands with us in our justice seeking, encourages us when we are stuck, and delights with us when we soar!
  • Eternal life proclaimed by Jesus in this text is pure gift, given by God to God’s people, IN ORDER THAT, we can live life in right relationship with our Creator. 
  • Eternal life is a gift of wings, in this life and the next.  It is a promise come true that God is with us today, tomorrow, the next day and forever. 
Do you hear the proclamation from our Lord?  Can you comprehend the true presence of our God?  Do you understand that God makes good on God’s promises, and truly is with each and every one of us, day by day. 

Oh what joy, to know that you are near me
When my burdens grow to great to bear
O what joy, to know that you will hear me
When I come, O Lord, to you in prayer
Day by day, no matter what betide me
You will hold me ever in your hand
Savior, with your presence here to guide me
I will reach at last the promise land.
                                                                      (Day By Day, With One Voice, #746 verse 4)
Friends ... God help us to soar on our wings of eternal life, today and forever.
So be it. Amen.
More Prayers from Our Community
(written in worship on July 29, 2012)
Love of God that is shared in Bethel be shared in our community. The peace that we have been taught be passed throughout the world. May the struggles that we have in our families be given the love of God.
Church: strength and growth for service.
Community: love and understanding for all.
Country: to let God into our lives.
World: peace.
Thank you Lord for life, my family and friends. I would be nothing without you. I humbly ask for your forgiveness for the sins I have committed and pray that you may forgive each and everyone else. I am grateful for all you do for this world. Your love is never ending. Guide us and protect us now and forever. Amen.
I pray that we at Bethel will be able to seek out those in our community who are in need of a variety of goods/services. Help us to build new relationships with those neighbors and to tell them about how Jesus has brought fulfillment to our lives. Help us also to ask God every day to bring peace to our broken world. Help us to overcome the evil forces that keep us from peace.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

John 6: 22-35

In our gospel lesson for today, we get a glimpse of the day after,

the day after Jesus feeds the 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.
the day after Jesus leaves the crowd because the people are so impressed with his teachings, miracles, and healing powers that they want to make Jesus king.
the day after Jesus crosses the sea without a boat, walks on water, and gets to the other side of the sea, only to, ONCE AGAIN, be followed and confronted by a crowd of people.

This time the people have lots of questions. What strikes me about these questions is that the people who are questioning Jesus are asking surface questions that are focused on Me, Me and did I mention ME.

And Jesus, well Jesus answers the questions much more deeply then imagined by these questioners, and Jesus focuses on God, God and did I mention, God!

It is as if the people asking the questions see God as a cosmic vending machine. I ask the questions, or put in the proverbial coin, and you ... vending machine called Jesus, just give me the answer I want ... the item I select and I will be happy and on my way.

How do I go about doing the works of God? ca-chunk ca-chunk ... just tell me what I should do right now, this moment, I will go do it and I will be good, my soul will be saved.

And Jesus, does not give them a list of things to do ... but instead, says this. BELIEVE IN ME. (Collective Heavy Sigh!)

OK ... I will consider believing in you, but what sign are you going to give me to prove that you are worth believing in? ca-chunk ca-chunk ... Never mind the fact that I am following you because I am amazed by your teaching and recent miracles you showed us. What sign are you going to give me now? You know, something like Moses feeding the people manna from heaven when they were hungry in the wilderness.

I can imagine Jesus shaking his head, maybe even pulling his hair out at this point and saying something like ...

• "I AM NOT your portable vending machine ...
 I am not here to give you your whim of the moment that will make you feel better about being a good disciple or follower or minister."
"Instead, I am what you need.

 I am not what you want.
 I am not your luxury item or the newest and best desire of your heart.
 I am not your mister fix it."

"I AM WHAT YOU NEED ... I am your staple. I am the bread of life. I am your sustenance. I am your SAVIOR!"

"In time, I will fill your every hunger by breaking down the barriers that keep you away from a healthy relationship with your Creator ...

"Soon, I will quench every thirst you have about faith, and you will come to learn that your salvation is NOT at all about what YOU DO! .... your salvation depends upon what I DO. And I will give you all that you need!"
"I will be the bread you hug when you sleep at night. Like in the story the children heard this morning. We can rest assured that we are beloved children of God because we sleep at night knowing the Jesus is our Savior."

NOW ... knowing that our needs were met yesterday, are met today and will be met tomorrow, NOW the question becomes real, not from the surface, but from the heart.

BECAUSE God loves me, BECAUSE God loves you, what can I do, what can you do, what can we do to further this kingdom of love, acceptance, abundance, and hope?

It is in the hearing and understanding of this question that our Family Camp participants harkened back to our first lesson for today. Not as a list of things to do IN ORDER THAT GOD WILL LOVE US ... but as an invitation of how to live with one another BECAUSE GOD LOVES US. (Eph 4: 1-8, 11-14)
“lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,”
“with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
“But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift.”
According to our folks at Family Camp ... we are all ministers of God.
We have all been given gifts from God that we are to use in response to God’s love for us.

We are to use our gifts of ministry in unity with one another ... in ways that further God’s love and our community!
This is our vision as children of God. To collectively use our gifts to the Glory of God!

What gifts, you may ask ... that ability to

mow the lawn
cook and/or bake
write notes
make banners
make phone calls
share connections
play an instrument
proof read
follow up
be a worker bee
feed the hungry
stand for justice
write curriculum
hold a hand
be last in line

And what are we missing as gifts of ministry.

Because sometimes we sell ourselves short.
Sometimes we do not believe we have anything to share.

BUT, as a child of God, you have been showered with gifts ... gifts that are given to you from God. Gifts that tell us the truth of our Savior:

I AM WHAT YOU NEED ... I am your staple. I am the bread of life. I am your sustenance. I am your SAVIOR!

So please, take the gifts I give you and lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called

Because friends, we are loved~and in that love we

must go about the glorious response to God’s love for us by sharing our gifts and being ministers in a questioning society.

Let us proclaim the sustenance of our Savior ...
Let us point to the bread we hug when we sleep at night.
Let us share our gifts in ways that transform our world in love.

So be it. Amen.

This is the sermon from August 5, 2012 at Bethel Lutheran Church. I share it, in part, because the people at family camp missed it, and since they were my main source of ideas ... I wanted them to see it. (You will have to ask to see the power point part as I have not included it here). I also share it to say to those who were at worship ... the blue section above was what was on the misplaced page 3 ... I hope I did it justice, off the top of my head. I found the page in the office on Tuesday. HAHAHA. I hope all enjoy this post. Feel free to comment.  God bless you!  Pastor Brenda

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A portion of the sermon from July 29, 2012 ... and a few prayers written during the service:

Do you have a prayer story that took the form of a miracle, somehow?
Maybe the answer was not what you wanted, but what you needed?
Maybe the prayer itself moved you to a place where you were ready for whatever came next.
Or the prayer was answered in a way no one expected, but in the end, it was the best answer give the circumstances.


With a closer look at our second lesson we see that this is a prayer from the apostle Paul ... a prayer for the children of God ... a prayer for us ...

“I pray that ... you may be strengthened in your inner being ... in the Spirit ... and that Christ may dwell in your hearts.” 

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend ... the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ  ... that, with Christ, we may accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine  !!!!” 

Amen?  Amen.

What an empowering and loving prayer.  
People of God, we are blessed to be prayed for ...
we are empowered to be about the message and love of God ...
we are invited to pray such powerful prayers and trust in our God to answer our prayers.

So, what are your prayers for this congregation?  For this neighborhood?  For your community?  For this world? 
Lord, listen to you children praying,
Lord send your spirit in this place.
Lord, listen to your children praying
Send us love, send us power, send us grace!

With you, for Christ,
Pastor Brenda

A couple responses from the congregation:

"Dear God, Please continue to show your love to the people of Bethel.  May your love for them and their love for you so shine that the congregation grows.  Be with all who gather at Bethel services of praise and thanksgiving, so all feel welcomed and loved.  Be with each of us while we are in church and in the community.  Amen"

"I pray for Bethel's growth, that we are able to reach out to our neighbors, family and friends to join us as a family of love.  For world peace and decline in homelessness, hunger, lost people and those in pain.  Help us strengthen our family units, beginning with our own."

"Pray for the kids who need to be adopted."

"God, Please help our congregation come together and grow in your Word and outreach to our surrounding community.  May we be able to broaden our horizons and welcome all who have a desire to worship in our name.  Amen"

Did you miss your opportunity to share a prayer for Bethel, our neighborhood, your community and/or our world?  Feel free to share it here ... or email it to (let us know if you want your name attached when we use it on Facebook, in this blog, in a bulletin or newsletter!)  Thank you!  And God's continued blessings.  PB