Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Sermon from the 4th Sunday of Advent

December 24, 2017
Advent 4B

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

Here we are the 4th week in Advent…which is also Christmas Eve, or Christmas Eve Eve….but you get the idea.   Our gospel lesson today is from Luke and the story we just heard would have technically taken place 9 months before the celebration of Christ’s birth.  This is the annunciation…when Mary learned from the Angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of the Son of God. 

The angel doesn’t come to Mary and say, how would you feel about being the mother to God’s son?  Would you be up for it?  Say Mary, here’s God’s amazing plan for saving the world, are you okay with playing a key role in it? 

Nope, the angel doesn’t really give her the option to answer….because God has called her.
God has chosen Mary.  There’s no opportunity to say no, because she’s the one. 

Mary does, however, ask, “How can this be?” 
She is human, of course and probably was wondering about the details…who wouldn’t? 

But this doesn’t deter her from saying yes. 
She is an amazing woman.  She hears God’s call in her life and she responds, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” 

In the midst of the season where we are preparing for God with us, Emmanuel, to be in our presence, in our hearts and in our world…sometimes this story seems like an amazing, one in a million occurrence of God calling one of God’s chosen to join in on the mission of saving the world.  And what makes this story amazing….is that Mary says yes.  She hears God’s call for her and she responds, positively. 

So, how does this story speak to us this day? 
God is breaking into our hearts every single day.  God is calling each and every one of us to be a part of this mission to love and save the world. 

We may not be called upon to physically give birth to the Son of God. 
But that does not belittle the fact that through our baptism, we have been called, by God, to live out lives of love and service to others, to bring Christ into the world. 

Mary was called to do a very tangible thing, to birth God’s love into the world, to proclaim that God’s promises are fulfilled.  Aren’t we asked to do the same? 

Meister Eckhart, a medieval mystic and theologian wrote, “We are all meant to be mothers of God.  What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself?  And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace and if I am not also full of grace?  What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to the Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and in my culture?  This, then is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.” 

God comes to each and every one of us, proclaiming good news of great joy to all people. 
We are each called and claimed and sent into this world to bear Christ to those around us. 

How will you bear Christ to the world this day? 
How are we to be mothers of God this day? 

A good friend of mine has been going through some struggles lately.  We’ll call her Jane. 
As a woman in her 40s, happily married and mother of 2 children and a member of just two churches her whole life, Jane found herself and family church shopping for Christmas Eve. 

This is what happened, after worship one Sunday, a woman approached her, in a large group and said that she was a terrible mother and her kids were horrible and everyone knew it and it needed to be said.    Jane was of course, upset and fired back at these women. 
Later, she spoke with the pastor who decided not to step in and address the conflict.  Hence, Jane does not feel that this is a place where she can bring her children or worship with a full heart. 

Last week, she and her husband received a gift subscription to Parents’ Magazine.  Weird, right?  How can this be? 

The reason I share this story is because my friend Jane is called to be the best mother she can be to her children and she is doing an amazing job. 

Just as Mary was called to be the best mother she would be to the Son of God. 

Mary responded with how can this be? 

My thought is that my friend Jane may ask herself this question from time to time….and my guess is that she is not the only mother, parent, teacher, mentor, pastor, youth worker to ask this question. 

Just as Mary wrestled with her call and responsibility, so do we.  When God calls us to task, calls upon us to be part of God’s mission in the world around us, we wrestle with this response and just may respond with, “How can this be?” 

As Meister Eckhart reminds us, we are all called to be mothers to God and as such, we are called to live into that role in our everyday lives. 

Katie Munnik reflects on the role of mothers in this way,

“Mothers teach their children how to live, and in turn are taught.  We become the mothers we are because of our kids’ personalities.  Christ’s own questions would shape Mary’s thinking heart.  Christ’s own love would give form to her loving.  Mary finds identity as mother in the identity of her son.  Questioning and offering obedient answers.
Constant to the end. 

As we continue to birth Christ into the world around us, we too, are changed in how we live and love.  Our questions and answers change as we grow in relationship with God and with one another. 

Our love of God and care of Christ in the world around us continues to change as we see and respond to Christ in our midst. 

We are called to be present as we bear Christ to the world. 
It means we will be both brave and vulnerable. 

Brave to share the light and love of Christ. 
And vulnerable to how the reflection of the light and love of Christ is received. 

As we prepare for the birth of the Christ child, I pray that we live with eyes open to see the presence of Christ in our lives today.  
Look for ways to care for others who bear Christ into the world.
Look for ways to nurture relationships with God and with one another. 

Seek ways to be bravely vulnerable while revealing the light and love of Christ in a world deeply in need of forgiveness, love and peace. 

May the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.   

Monday, December 25, 2017


Twas the morning of Christmas and all through the house,
a few creatures were stirring, but thankfully not one of them a mouse.  
The living room was strung with open boxes and paper, 
thinking the clean up would come sometime later.  
The opening of gifts happened very early this morning,
after much celebration in worship that began on Advent 4 morning.*

Yet before seeing the downstairs, something first had to be done.  
There was a trip to the scale, which always makes me worrisome.  
By a Festivus miracle, the numbers have gone down yet again, 
Which means today, there is room for celebration.  

Another week of solid workouts, eating well, and tracking it all,
Has made the scale numbers yet again fall.  
Now part of this decline, is due to some low hydration this Christmas Day.
Last night between multiple worship services, there needed to be more water breaks and less visits to the calf in the hay.**

In preparation for the celebration of Christmas,
I took time each day to complete the 12 Days of Fitness.  
From planks to wall squats, pushups and lunges,
My muscles have been transformed taking on shapes not found in sponges.  

I am continually thankful for the opportunities to try new things and to step outside my comfort zone.
But more thankful for the people who support me in all that I do, either in person, or through texts on my phone.  

And now with coffee in hand, I'll share my latest numbers from the scale,  

Hoping that with this post, others feel okay to share their tale.  

Be well, dear friends on this Christmas Day.
Take time to share love and light with family and friends, even if this isn't your holiday.  
Be yourself. Be brave. Be vulnerable. Be true.  
The world is much better, because of the presence of you.  

*I know it's weak, rhyming morning with morning...but hey, I have yet to finish the first cup of coffee.
**It's actually straw.

Monday, December 18, 2017


Here we are again, fresh off the scale.  

I'm learning more and more how important slow and steady is.  Another .2 pounds down.  I know it's a fraction of a pound, but it is making a difference.  

I have to say that this past week my body has begun to feel and look a little different.  I am beginning to see the weight loss in my face and around my obliques.  There is a little more room in my jeans and I'm feeling good about myself. (not that I wasn't before, but with results come encouragement and positive reinforcement.) 

This past week included beginning the 12 Days of Fitness - a butt-kicking 12 day full body workout.  Just like the song, the 12 Days of Christmas, each day you add something new.  

Today I will complete 7 stair climbers, 6 pushups, 5 star jumps, 4 burpees, 3 minute bridge, 2 mite wall squat and a 1 minute plank.  Good times, friends, good times.  

This has been a good new thing for me.  It pushes me outside of my comfort zone and is working muscles that I have not challenged for a while.  It's wild that in the last 3 days, I've already seen improvement in the wall squat.  And by improvement I mean that now my legs don't start shaking until some where in the middle of the second minute.  

The eye opener for me is that my upper body needs some attention.  As a solid cardio girl, I neglect core strengthening and upper body strength training.  That will be a goal for me in the new year.  I know, looking back, that I was running strong and fast when I was doing a combination of running, boot camp classes and yoga.  It's just a matter of working those different workouts into the weekly schedule.  

Food wise, I feel like eating healthier is becoming more habit.  Again, I miss some treats from time to time, but in the beginning I felt restricted, but now I focus on the good stuff I can eat.  It's happening...there is a transition.  It takes time.  I'm thankful that in the time it has taken thus far, that there has been a steady decline and I have good support at home and at work.  

Until the next post, be well, friends.  

Monday, December 11, 2017


The numbers continue to drop.  (She breathes a sigh of relief.)  

When this year began, I chose the word 'focus' as my one word.  That word took on different shapes throughout the year.   From family, to one aspect a day, to reading, to working out, and as the year is winding down, it's back to diet and exercise.  The positive outcome of focusing on diet and exercise is that it is making a difference.  Despite the time of year, the numbers on the scale continue to go down.  At this point, while I miss pizza and good crusty home baked bread with butter, I'm not sneaking off to get some everyday.  I am thinking that pizza may be my New Year's Day treat, though... But seriously, because I have been logging food and workouts, I'm more apt to think about what I'm eating and why.  I'm more apt to not snack on a cookie, but reach for an apple or a cheese stick or a hard boiled egg.  
So, it's working.  
The downfall, that I realized last night while sharing my highs and lows, is that this seems to take up lots of room in my head and my heart.  Yes, I know when you focus on something, it takes up more space in your day to day life, but I often wonder what else could or should be filling that space and time.  But the other positive is that I am able to share my journey and experiences with others, which I hope helps model a life (in progress, of course) with a healthy focus. 

The new recipe for the week came from the cookbook, Run Fast, Eat Slow, by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky.  There are so many tasty treats in here.  This week I made the fig & pig quiche.  

Also, I really like figs.  The quiche was super tasty and I even worked some whole wheat flour into the crust.  

We brought back zucchini lasagna this week....a new house favorite.  So many layers of cheese, veggies, meat and homemade sauce!  

In other news, I'm working on my word for 2018....with prayer, discernment and some reading, I think the word is coming into view.  Updates to come.  
My goal, weight-wise this week, is to maintain, not gain.  I have been thankful for the decrease in numbers each week, but never know what the week will bring especially with 3 work lunches this week.  

Have a great week.  Until the next post, be well.  

Monday, December 4, 2017


.2 pounds = my loss for each of the last two weeks
.2 pounds = feels like double digits when I think about his past week.  

This week was a tough one as I knew it would be.  This week included two trips to Hershey - one with lunch at Hotel Hershey and tasting some sweet desserts...

The next trip to Hershey was to tour and dine at Tröegs.  The food was delicious, as usual, but the brews...they seemed to taste better than normal - probably because I hadn't had a beer in several weeks.  What a nice treat!  

Saturday included back-to-back celebrations and gatherings.  From a 50th wedding anniversary celebration to an annual cookie swap.  Both events were filled with joy, smiles and of course tasty beverages and food.  
Here are the lemon rosemary shortbread I made for the swap:

Home on Sunday for lunch, Billy and I enjoyed home freshly cooked venison tenderloin with a side salad with homemade lemon vinaigrette.  (After using only zest in the cookies, we have many lemons in need of consumption.) 

With three days of feasting, I wasn't really sure how the overall week would turn out.  The other important addition to this past week where my daily trips to the gym.  I went 6 days in a row.  I stepped it up on the length of cardio and did 3 spin classes.  I know that the physical activity helped in a huge way.  I'm thankful for the change on the scale, no matter how slight.  

I'm ready for a run this morning and another week of regular workouts.  Strength training and perhaps a new class at the gym will also be part of this week's adventures.  

I'm thankful, yet again, that this is something Billy and I are pursuing together.  It would be much tougher on my own.  And thank you, for following along with words and prayers of support.  

Be well...

Monday, November 27, 2017


With a .2 lb drop from last week (including Thanksgiving) and I'll take it!  

At this point, there are two goals out there for me.  I am still aiming to lose another 6-7 pounds.  I am, however, very aware of how eating changes during the holidays. Often there are cookies around, or a gathering with tasty treats that wouldn't normally be part of my daily diet.  With that in mind the most prominent goal between now and New Year's Day is Maintain Not Gain.  

I've jumped on this before with a program through my gym and it's a good one.  It takes into account the increased food options and gatherings and the reality that I do not need to strictly stay away from all things celebratory, but it does help me continue working toward my goal.  Would I love to lose a few pounds before the new year begins?  Sure, I would, but I'm not going to stress out over it.  

As a Pastor, the season of Advent brings its own busyness.  I don't need to add the worry of weight loss to it as well.  But speaking of Advent, a season where we prepare our hearts and our homes for the coming of the Christ child, I can think about preparing my body for the upcoming year.  My body, a gift from God, needs proper nutrition and care to function at it's best.  After hearing that I was in the process of losing weight, several folks have come up to me to say that it isn't necessary.  I appreciate the positive comments, but I know how my body feels.  A few pounds lighter and running and fitness classes just feel better to me.  

We now move into phase two of South Beach....which means fruits are back!  Also, carbs are reintroduced in the form of whole grains and in moderation.   Billy and I have already been eating well over the last two weeks.  We are looking forward to Taco (salad) Tuesday, but also the Christmas trip to Chocolate World and Hotel Hershey on Thursday.  We'll do our best and continue to eat as best as we can, especially when we are in charge of our own meals.  When the meals are out of our hands, we will enjoy in moderation.  

In the spirit of a post Thanksgiving post, I'm thankful for this space to share this journey with all of its ups and downs.  

Be well, friends.  

Monday, November 20, 2017


And week 2 of following South Beach phase one begins.  
Monday may not be my favorite day.  In fact as the alarm went off this morning, I snoozed and procrastinated knowing that the first thing I would do would be weighing in.   I'm up, weighed in and now on with the rest of the day.  

I'm super pumped about the crazy weight loss this week.  It is pretty serious, but that is to be expected with the first phase of South Beach.  Not only have I cut out carbs, sugars and alcohol, I'm regularly logging my food.  When I do that, I hold myself more accountable.  (Side note, I get that logging food isn't 100% accurate and most people - myself included - underestimate food amounts and calories, but this process has worked for me, so I'm sticking to it.)  

A few things I noticed/experienced this week: 
1) It's tough going to an all you can eat pizza, pasta & salad buffet and just having the salad.  But, as a treat for a small group at church the date had already been set.  So I told them I'd eat all the salad and they should eat all the rest.  All in all it worked.  I'm thankful for my willpower and support of those girls.  

2) Because sugars were off the table, I didn't eat 2 or 3 or 5 pieces of Halloween candy as I was watching tv in the evening, we (my husband and I) either splurged with sugar-free pudding, to feed our sweet tooth or I would have a cup of herbal tea.  I guess I like to eat or snack while watching tv, so I just need to make sure when that happens at the end of the day that it's healthy and that I don't go overboard.  

3) Having a partner going through this process makes a world of difference!  As Billy and I looked at our dinner options - pasta with meatballs, pasta with sausage, salad and desserts - at a church event this week we buckled down and made huge plates of salad topped with meatballs and sausage.   It was easier as we encouraged one another to stick to the plan.  

4) We ate like champs this past week.  From roasted veggie omelets to several new recipes, we felt full each day and that is always a good feeling.  

A new recipe from the Runner's World Cookbook - shrimp with white beans and tomatoes - was a hit.  We will make this again...and have another pound of shrimp in the freezer so we are good to go.  

Zucchini lasagna...or as Billy calls it veggie lasagna with meat. I used the mandolin to make zucchini noodles and layered them with ricotta cheese, homemade meat sauce and sliced meatballs.  I could eat that almost every day.  

And thanks to skinnytaste.com, I found a tasty way to make buffalo tender strips without butter or deep frying.  They tasted great on top of a salad with some blue cheese dressing.  

All in all it's been a good week.  Going into week two I already know it will be tricker than week one.  In the back of my head I know the weight loss will not be as drastic as week one, but that's okay.  

I also know that with Thursday being Thanksgiving, that day will be tricky.  
I've set a few goals for myself.  First of all, I'm starting the day with a good 4.748 mile run in Manchester.  I'll be moving that day before the feasting begins.  
I will also enjoy time with family and the delicious homemade food that I get to eat that day.  
I will go light on the carbs, but will have a bit of dessert.  I will not have too many drinks or apps or desserts that I will not be happy about later.  Also the treat of eating with the family who raised the turkey is a joy and a blessing in itself.  

Cheers to you all this week.  
If Thursday will be tough for you, set up a few guidelines to help get you through the day and when it's all said and done, Friday is a new day.  

Be well.

Monday, November 13, 2017


You may recognize the numbers.  

I have noticed over the past few months that as I have weighed myself (semi-regularly) that the numbers have been slowly going up.  I have not been eating in a very healthy fashion as of late and I have been using half marathon training as an excuse to not work on my weight.  I will not give myself a hard time about it...I will look forward and make a change in my focus.  I know that working on healthier eating will help me drop the weight and, when I do, my running pace and fitness will improve because I will not be lugging around an extra 15 pounds.  

My race on Saturday went really well.  I used a Runner's World training plan and listened to my body throughout the training.  I took extra rest days, and even shortened some training runs because I was experiencing pain or feeling more tired than normal.  I will say that sleep played a much more prominent role in this fall's training.  That was definitely helpful in so many ways.  Now to add in the importance of healthy eating and I should see a few more changes.  

As I shared my race experience with a friend I shared how I ran faster than I expected....which was a good thing, my body was ready.  I guess I was surprised because I thought I would take the 5K easy and then slowly speed up during the 10 miler.  Well the pace of race day got me off to a quicker start than I had anticipated, but it felt good.  When I hit the starting line for the 10 miler I was warmed up and ready to run.  I held my 5K pace for the first few miles, slowed down on the hilly section (but kept running) and then caught up to the 5K pace as it flattened out in the last 5 miles.  

And then I ran the steps....because it was the Rocky Balboa Run.  

At some point during the 5K, I did feel some heel pain.  Because of that, I will not run until that has totally gone away.  I was a bit achy yesterday in my legs (primarily my quads) and will embrace the recovery time this week.  

Those recovery days will be filled with reading, stretching and some easy cross training when my body feels up for it.  

I'll be working on a menu that fits in with South Beach Phase 1, since that has worked well in the past to make a healthy eating shift and to shed some pounds right away.  

I know weight loss isn't a quick thing and I also know that it is an ongoing challenge for me.  So here I am, recommitting to focusing on watching what I eat, logging what I eat, and working on making sure I'm taking in healthy meals that feed my muscles and strengthen them for future training.  

I have several cookbooks to help with the healthy meal planning and prep.  

I'll be blogging my weigh ins on a weekly basis because that helps me keep accountability.  

If this is an ongoing struggle or challenge for you know that you have support and that you are not going through this alone.  

Until the next post...

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Blessings abound.

November 8, 2017

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 

As we gathered in the social hall for dinner and a craft this evening, the underlying theme was blessing.  Seeing the middle table filled with food - from tacos to pork and sauerkraut - and other tables filled with people, it’s hard to miss the blessings in this place.  Then as we painted cornucopias, we were reminded, yet again, that they overflow with food and blessings in our lives. 

In a day and age where the daily news lifts up messages of violence and scarcity, it is good for us to gather together and be reminded of the abundant blessings that God has given us. 

It is good for us to be reminded that we, too, are all called by God, just like Abram and Sarai.  We are called and when that call comes, we are to respond with action. 

We may be called to leave places of comfort and find voices that are new to us. 
We may be called to listen more deeply to others and share our own vulnerability.

As individuals we are called, and as the Body of Christ. 

We are continually called to see how we, together, continue to live as a community of faith and how that impacts our country and our world. 

And the good news is that this passage from Genesis speaks a powerful word today in those instances when we are called to leave all that is known behind, when we let go of our comforts and securities and go on a journey – where God leads us – even without having our own map. 

Just this week, last night actually, Billy and I were talking about how long I’ve been in Robesonia.  I said, seven years.  To which I pondered…huh, seven years, that’s the longest I’ve lived in one place – aside from the house where I grew up.  Seven years, that’s the longest I’ve been in one job.  Seven years….and what a journey it has been. 

Just after arriving in Robesonia, my friend Connie said to me, I’m not sure how you did it…you know, moving halfway across the country all by yourself.  I said, I didn’t. 

Held in the thoughts and prayers of the people of Trinity, I began the journey.  But in addition to the way you carried my spiritually, you also physically were present with me.  You send people from Trinity to drive out and bring my stuff, my cat and myself safely to Robesonia. 

Upon my arrival, I was welcomed into a home for dinner and a place to rest while all my stuff was unloaded into the parsonage which was already filled with a pantry of food. 

I did not make the journey alone…I couldn’t have made the journey alone. 
I, we, continue on this journey.
I continue on this journey, called by God, guided by the Spirit and serving the people of Trinity - you all – our community and our world. 

And so the journey, our journey continues. 

The journey may be long, often times, longer than we expect.  It will have ups and downs, joys and sorrows. But it is a journey filled with many, many promises – the most important being the promise of God’s presence to show us the way.  (Juliana Claassens)

May each of you continue to be open to hearing God’s call in your lives, a call that may surprise you, excite you, make you worry a bit, bring you out of your comfort zone or all of the above. 

Know that as you answer that call, as individuals and as a community of faith, we do so guided and guarded by the promises of God.  We will share those abundant blessings through love and care of our neighbor and our world.  We will see the blessings of love and grace and forgiveness multiply as we share all that God has blessed us with and continues to bless us with.  And in the midst of those blessings, God will be there. 

God will go before us, to show us the way.

God will go with us, in the presence of one another, so we do not journey alone.

And God will continue after us, through the generations to come, so that God’s message of love, forgiveness, grace and abundance will be proclaimed throughout the world and throughout the generations. 

And now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Reformation Sermon

October 29, 2017
Reformation Sunday
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 46
Romans 3:19-28
John 8:31-36

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable and suitable in your sight O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.  

Telling the truth will make you free, Jesus says.  And it will.  Which means it will change your life. 

Glennon Doyle Melton, author, blogger at momastery.com and public speaker shares that her calling in life, her ministry is truth telling.  She’s a reckless truth teller. 

'As she was discovering her vocation she shares, “Maybe my public service would be to tell people the truth about my insides.”  She decided that she had found her thing: openness.  She decided it was more fun to say things that made other women feel hopeful about themselves and God than it was to say or omit things to make people feel jealous of her.'  (Carry On, Warrior, p. 6)

This openness meant revealing to the whole world who she was and is…someone who has struggled with drug, alcohol and food addiction, someone who has been arrested many times because of those additions.  Someone who worries about how she parents, if she’s doing it right and if she should even be doing it at all. 

When she started blogging the truth about who she is and her daily struggles, her dad called her and said, “Glennon.  Don’t you think there are some things you should take to the grave?” And she replied, “No.  I really don’t. That sounds horrible to me.  I don’t want to talk anything to the grace.  I want to die used up and emptied out.  I don’t want to carry around anything that I don’t have to.  I want to travel light.” (Carry On, Warriorp. 6)

I have listened to her on podcasts and read two of her books and I can say that there is something to being a truth teller.  There is something in that profound sharing that helps us connect more deeply with God and with one another.  Sharing struggles, worries, anxieties and truths about who we are is freeing, life-giving and real.

There is something about admitting our brokenness, not just to God, but to ourselves and to others.  When we do so we are more aware of the sin in our lives, the need for repentance and forgiveness, the need for God and our calling to continue to help and heal others. 

Glennon describes all of us as wounded healers. (Carry On, Warriorp. 50)
Knowing that we are all broken, we come to God for forgiveness and healing, and then we go to forgive and heal others.  We are wounded healers, that is who the church is…and is called to be. 

We are called to see not only ourselves as wounded, but I believe the greater church as well. 

As we gather to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.  We look back at a single act, by a single monk, that started something much bigger.  When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, he was hoping to spark conversation and dialogue about how the church needed to be reformed. 

Yet once that ball started rolling, there was no stopping it.  With the help of the printing press, Martin Luther’s writings were being copied and distributed like wildfire. 

While we often gather this day and think of Luther and his translation of the New Testament into German and the teaching tools of the Small and Large Catechism, we often gloss over his writings about the Jews.

Luther's attitude toward the Jews changed over the course of his life. In the early phase of his career—until around 1536—he expressed concern for their plight in Europe and was enthusiastic at the prospect of converting them to Christianity.  Luther tended to be stubborn and he could not wrap his mind around how the people of Jewish faith could not see Christ as the Messiah. 

Being unsuccessful in conversion, in his later career, Luther denounced Judaism and called for harsh persecution of its followers, so that they might not be allowed to teach. 

Sadly, because his writings were so prolific and he himself was such a strong figure in German history, these writings were brought to the surface during the Nazi occupation in Germany.  

But who we are today, as a church, and as the Body of Christ, is the reality that we are all wounded healers.  We are called to see and name the truth of our past, and how by the grace of God we are continually transformed to speak the truth and continue to live in the light of Christ. 

On April 18, 1994 the ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted the “Declaration,” which repudiates Luther's anti-Jewish writings, expresses deep regret for their historical consequences, and reclaims the desire to live in "love and respect for Jewish people."

Sometimes telling the truth is painful, but necessary to move forward. 

Jesus says, you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. 
The theme that Jesus is bringing to his followers is one of freedom.  Jesus knows he brings freedom for those who live in him and stay connected to God’s word.  He tells them, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 

Jesus is describing a new kind of freedom.  Not just a freedom from the stresses and struggles from everyday life, but a freedom from sin and death…and the promise of eternal life.  Not that anyone stops sinning.  By nature, humans are sinful and live enslaved to the power of sin.  Left to ourselves, we mess things up.  Badly. 

Even on our best days, we fall short of God’s expectations of us.  Falling short includes both things we have actively done and that whole category of things we never get around to doing.  Guilt is not a stranger to the Christian.  Yet, Jesus sets us free from that guilt.

That is the most amazing thing about God. 
That even though we try our best and fall short of perfection, God continues to love and bless us nonetheless. 

So, where does that leave us? 

We are always in a place to begin anew, thanks to God’s transforming grace and love in our lives and in our world. 

Knowing that we are yet sinners, we will go out each day, speaking the truth…to lies in our lives and our world. 

We will speak the truth of a God who loves us unconditionally and forgives us our sins. 
We will speak the truth of who we are and who God created us and calls us to be. 

Will it be easy?  Some days yes, others not so much. 

But we are reminded that we are connected in this mission…that we are called by Christ, and we gather in that grace, and we go forth joyfully serving. 

This is the gift of faith, given to us by God, that carries us out into the world. 

“Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith.”  Luther said.  And it is.

I pray that we as members of the Body of Christ and the visible presence of the church in the world around us are strengthened by this act of forgiveness, that we are empowered to speak the truth and that we impact the world around us in amazing and transforming ways. 

And may the peace of Christ, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

I don't know.

October 1, 2017
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm 25:1-9
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable and suitable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

In the 1957 book, Dynamics of Faith, the Lutheran pastor and theologian Paul Tillich wrote the famous words, “Faith is not belief without doubt.  Faith is belief in spite of doubt.”
“Faith is not belief without doubt.  Faith is belief in spite of doubt.”
For Tillich, these words would not just be theoretical words in a vacuum.  Paul Tillich held onto his faith in a particularly difficult situation and time. He was a pastor and professor in Germany during the 1920s and 30s. 

The church was a challenging place to be during this time.  You see, many of Martin Luther’s writings we were being used to promote anti-Semitism.  And the largest protestant Christian movement in Germany sought  to, among other things, strike the Old Testament from the Bible due to its Jewish origins.  They also banned people with Jewish heritage from the ordained ministry and even questioned whether it was proper to baptize people of Jewish descent. 

They even tried to change the focus of Christianity from the cross and resurrection to Jesus’ conflicts with the Jewish authorities.  They were trying to make Jesus the lead Aryan warrior in their campaign against the Jews.  Paul Tillich came into conflict with these so-called ‘Christians’ and lost his job as a seminary professor when Hitler came to power.  Yet in 1957 he was still able to proclaim his faith in Christianity despite his doubts. 

Now meet, Bishop James Pike a popular Episcopalian leader who became the Bishop of California shortly after Paul Tillich shared those words of faith and doubt.  Pike’s time as bishop was controversial.  He became associated with Dr. Martin Luther King who was a deeply polarizing and controversial figure himself.  Pike promoted civil rights for blacks, he ordained a woman as a deacon (even though her ordination wasn’t approved until after his death) and he was in favor of gay rights. 

Pike wasn’t just controversial because of his social positions.  He was a man who was not afraid to question the theological positions of the church, either.  He questioned just about every one of them.  In the end, he went to Israel to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and died in the desert while he was looking for answers.  Bishop Pike’s most famous quote was that Christians need to have ‘fewer beliefs, but more belief.’

Both of these leaders are going to make any history book that is written about 20th century theologians.  Both wrote many books and were on the faculty at respected universities.  Neither one was afraid to say, “I don’t know.” 

“We don’t know.” 
These are words that take a prominent role in today’s gospel lesson.  Of course, the context of these words was very different than when we hear them from Paul Tillich or Bishop Pike…their words are a confession of human limitations, an expression of humility.  When we hear these words spoken from the Pharisees, it’s a political maneuver. 

Their alternatives are to acknowledge that John the Baptist’s mission (that is his preaching and command to baptize) was from God or to claim that it was of human origin (that is that he was a false prophet.)  In the first case they would have to explain why they hadn’t accepted his message; in the second case they would run afoul of the popular opinion of John: that he was a true prophet. 

It’s important for Matthew to show here that not only are the leaders influenced by the crowd’s opinion, since they seek popularity and are jealous of Jesus.  Matthew also lifts up that the crowd, which has played a positive role throughout that narrative but has not yet definitively decided for or against Jesus, does indeed have influence and responsibility.  The leaders decide that it is better not to answer at all. 

But even if the words we hear from the Pharisees are not genuine, there are places in the Bible where we hear the more humble, “I don’t know.”  Even Paul, the first Christian theologian and someone who was never hesitant to declare his own convictions, honestly admitted that we cannot always know how to pray. In his letter to the church in Corinth, he admitted that he didn’t even have all the answers when it came to his personal visions.  Only God knows everything.  And it is in God that Christians put all their faith, despite not knowing the things we cannot know. 

“We do not know,” is actually a very Christian confession. 

But on the other hand, as Christians, there are things we can say we do know. 

Our faith is based on and in Jesus Christ.  Christians believe that in his life, death, and resurrection, we get a glimpse of the divine.  We believe that through Jesus, we can see God.  What is true of Jesus Christ is also true of God.  That isn’t a statement that can be proved in any empirical sense.  That’s where faith comes in. 

In Jesus we meet a God that loves and cares for the sick, the poor, the oppressed.   We meet a God that spreads love to all people even though it means violating every artificial social, religious, and purity boundary that human beings could devise.  Even in his crucifixion, Jesus he continued to tell us, from the cross, that God loves us. 

And not even death could stop him from coming back, offering forgiveness to his betrayers.  That’s the Jesus that we confess.  That’s the loving image that Christians claim show us God’s true nature. 

As Christians, we feel comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” to all sorts of questions about life and the afterlife.  We don’t need to know all the answers because we know we don’t have to worry.  We are in the hands of a God who loves us.  A God who didn’t put up a defense even when we were killing God in Jesus.  Since God loves us that much, then we don’t have to worry that we will be taken care of, even if we don’t know the answers.

Some of the things we should know is that Jesus Christ is and Christian faith should be, understanding that we are all one human family in God’s eyes. 

It’s about proclaiming the good news that God loves everyone no matter who they are.  It’s about knowing that our life here is not all that there is and seeing ourselves in the perspective of something bigger.  That’s what we learned from Christ.  It’s okay to say that we don’t know about the rest.

The God we see in Christ doesn’t give us all the answers.  But that God gives us something better –courage.  Despite the promises of some preachers and religions, life will always be an uncertain thing.  We all know this.  We can never know what is coming next.  But we have a faith that allows us to live each day with a confidence others may not have. 

We have the promise that nothing we do, don’t do or anyone else ever does can snatch us out of the God’s hand, no matter what happens in this life.  Because we live with this, we can also sometimes live with the words, “We don’t know.”

So as you go about your week, be guided and guarded by a God that loves you. 
Know that through God’s love, you are free to love and serve others, to share a hope and a promise of eternal life…and to not know all the answers, because you are loved by a God who loves you, no matter what. 

And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.