Monday, November 30, 2009

Ways to Worship Fully

So yesterday my sermon was about Worship Fully, one of the four main concepts of Advent Conspiracy. In the sermon I used the "definition" from the Advent Conspiracy website for what it means to worship fully. But to keep you from looking it up it is: It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift a song up to our God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year. Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.

But what does that mean? How can you worship fully in your life? Well here are a few suggestion, use them all, use only one.

Plan the Advent/Christmas season around worship - make sure shopping, decorating, parties and other preparations do not prevent you from attending weekly worship.

Use an Advent wreath of calendar and each evening take a moment to light the wreath or open a door and offer God a prayer.

Read the bible daily.

Find a daily devotional you enjoy and read it each day of Advent.

Pray with family or along.

Say table grace, even at restaurants, even when you do not each as a family.

Take a few moments each day to stand back and find joy and thanksgiving in your day.

Sing along to those Christmas Carols - especially the ones that refer to worshiping Jesus - O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Away in the Manger - just to name a few.

These are just a few suggestion on how to worship fully. There are many, many more things you can do, but the point is not to give you an even longer to do list. The point of Advent Conspiracy is to allow you the opportunity to stand back from all the holiday craziness that happens this time of year and instead take time to worship God, who came to us as a humble child, for that is the true reason of Christmas.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Worship Fully

This Advent I'm hopefully preaching a sermon series based on the four concepts of Advent Conspiracy - Worship Fully, Give More, Spend Less and Love All. You can find out more about Advent Conspiracy HERE and HERE.

This particular sermon focused on Worship Fully and did reference the gospel text for today Luke 21:25-36 . But really all of the text from this week were helpful in discussing how we worship fully. The other text for this week were: Jeremiah 33:14-16 Psalm 25:1-10 and 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

So it is the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the First Sunday in Advent and I have a question for you: Are you sick of Christmas yet?

Are you tired of the commercial for sales daily reminding you that you need to buy your family’s love (but don’t worry it is on sale this weekend only)? Are you annoy yet with the Christmas carols being constantly played in the malls, department stores and even on the regular radio stations, some places started as early as November 1? Are you disgusted with the house down the road that has already had Christmas decorations up for a month and each day puts up something new? Are you fed up with your ever-growing to-do list of shopping, cooking, decorating, wrapping, caroling, partying, spending, stressing? It is not even December yet, and are you sick of Christmas?

And really what is the point of all that? Of decorating, shopping, cooking, baking, wrapping, caroling, partying, spending and stressing? Is that meaning of Christmas? Is that what makes memories? Are those your favorite memories of Christmases past? Is your favorite memory of Christmas dealing with the traffic jams and crowds at the mall? Is your favorite part of Christmas trying to find the perfect gift for the random co-worker that you hardly know who you were so lucky get in the secret Santa exchange at work? Is your favorite thing about Christmas is when you finally pay off the last bill in June? Is that what you hope your children and grandchildren remember about Christmas?

See all of that is temporary. They are things of this earth. They will pass away, they will fade. Every year Americans spend 450 Billion dollars on Christmas, most of which will be returned, exchanged or tossed in the trash. Forgotten about by the time Christmas come again the following year.

So are we not to do all this? Are we not to worry about decorating, shopping, cooking, wrapping, caroling, partying, spending, and stressing? But what if you like cooking or caroling or the parties? Well maybe we can do it only differently. Maybe we can conspire to do Christmas in a way that is less stressful and more meaningful.

I would like to invite you join a conspiracy with me. An Advent Conspiracy.

Advent Conspiracy is a group that was started in 2006 by four churches and their pastors to help people reclaim Advent as a season of waiting, of giving, of worship, so that Christmas can be a time of meaning and not about useless gifts, long to-do list, and stress. There are four main concepts to Advent Conspiracy: Worship Fully, Give More Presence, Spend Less and Love all. So each week this Advent, I hope to discuss one of these with you so hopefully you will conspire with me.

But first lets begin with worship, because that is where Christmas began, that is why Christmas began. We worship. We worship the infant in the manger, we worship the man hanging from the cross, and we will worship the Son of Man who is coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

To worship means to pray, to sing, to give our time and our possessions. We think we worship, but really worship happens to us. Worship is what God does to use when we think we’re singing, praying and listening on Sunday Mornings.

Worship happens when we hear and listen to God’s voice. Worship happens when we received Christ’s body and blood through the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Worship happened when we have been washed with the grace-filled, life giving waters of baptism. Worship happens when we receive God’s grace and forgiveness. Worship happens to us. To worship fully means to accept the Holy Spirit to move through us, to allow the Spirit to stir our hearts and minds, to receive God’s grace, to gather around Jesus Christ.

To worship fully, in the words of the Advent Conspiracy website, is to realize that: It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift a song up to our God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year. Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.

See it all begins with worship. The shepherds had an overwhelming passion to come to worship Jesus in the manger. The wise men had an overwhelming passion to came to worship Jesus and offer him their gifts. That is the point of Christmas, that is the point of Advent.

Advent is a season of waiting. Yes we are waiting and preparing the birth of Christ, something that has already happened, but we are reminded by our Bible lessons today that we are also awaiting for Christ to come again. We are waiting, preparing, praying, singing, listening for when Christ will come again in great glory. For the day when we can stand up and raise our heads in worship, knowing that our redemption is near. We are waiting for a day when we can worship Jesus in all his glory, when he comes again.

This Advent we are waiting and preparing. We are not just preparing our homes with decorations. We are not just preparing our schedules with too much to do. We are not just preparing our credit cards with too many bills to pay (450 billion dollars). This Advent and really each and every day of the entire year, we are waiting and preparing our hearts and minds for Christ. We are waiting and preparing to truly worship Christ. We are waiting and preparing for the day when God’s promises will be fulfilled, when the Lord will be called our righteousness.

But until that day, we worship God and realize, hopefully with an overwhelming passion, that God happens to us in worship. As we wait and prepare, we receive the forgiveness of all of our sins because Christ who was born in a stable will die for our sins and come again in glory. As we wait and prepare, we received God’s everlasting, eternal grace through the gifts of the Lord’s Supper. As we wait and prepare, we are reminded that we are children of God, baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. As we wait and prepare, we worship, for Christmas is coming and Christ is coming again.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dessert, dessert and more dessert

We finally had our house warming on Saturday. It was a lovely evening filled with many congregation members and a few friends from outside the congregation. I have no clue how many people we had total but it was a full house.

But as a spin a on typical house warming with cheese and cracker trays and veggies and dip we had a dessert party.

My family had dessert parties for quiet a few years after we moved to Minnesota for various reason, and I just remember my parents and myself and maybe my sister baking for a few weeks a nice variety of cakes, cheesecakes, cookies and pies and the dining room table being covered in desserts the entire evening.

So I set to baking. A few weeks ago I made chocolate chip, peanut butter and snickerdoodle cookies (all were frozen). The following week I made strawberry jam bars, double chocolate brownies, triple layer cookie bars, chewy peanut butter bars, and peppermint cookie bars. And this last Friday was cake day: mint chocolate cheesecake, smore's cheesecake, almond cheesecake, pumpkin cake, pineapple upside down cake, fruit pizza, triple layer raspberry chocolate cake, flour-less chocolate torte, and angel food cake. Can you tell I like to bake and are you hungry yet?

Of course there were leftovers, but between freezing some items, bringing others to coffee hour on Sunday and pawning some leftovers onto others, there is a manageable amount left that Bob and I can munch off of for the next week or so until we really do eat our weight in desserts.

But I think the best part of the night was for the congregation members to see our home. The house has had such a history with the congregation and so many people were excited to see it remodeled to new life. So here is hoping that there will be much life still left in this old house!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Past, Present and Future

For Christ the King Sunday, the gospel text is John 18:33-37. The second lesson is also referred to which is Revelation 1:4b-8. I also started this sermon by first showing pictures of The Burger King, King Kong, Elvis, Michael Jackson and the king of hearts to ask what makes a person a king.

Who are these people? Kings What makes them kings? What does it mean to be a king? Who else are kings?

Well today is Christ the King Sunday, so tell me, how is Jesus Christ a king?
See I knew you would have an answer for this, probably more than most adults which is why I started with talking to you today.

So here it is Christ the King Sunday and we have a gospel lesson about Jesus being on trial, about to be put to death, something that is very un-kingly. Jesus was not being treated as a king. He was mocked, he was put on trial, he was persecuted, he was sentenced to death on a cross and he died a horrible death.

Jesus was a king without a physical realm. He was a king without a throne, court, money, gold, and prestige that comes from being a king.

Then again Jesus says it himself, his kingdom is not from this world. Jesus was not treated as a king because Jesus was not the type of king that people had seen before. Kings are still mortal, they were born like any other human, they still die like any other human, but Jesus was not just human.

Jesus was and is also God. Jesus was born in a manger, his birth we will celebrate in just a few weeks, but the beginning of the gospel of John also tells us that: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The gospel continues: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Jesus was born like any other king, maybe a little more humbly, but still a very human birth, but yet Jesus was also at the beginning, Jesus was not created, Jesus was eternal.

And Jesus did not die like any other king. He was put to death on a cross but unlike all other humans Jesus did not remain dead, he rose again, was resurrected on the third day. Jesus then ascended into heaven, Jesus is eternal.

Oh how I have changed tenses, Jesus was eternal, Jesus is eternal. And guess what? Jesus will be eternal. Past, present and future. All three at once. Isn’t that one of the very first rules you learn about grammar in writing classes, to stay in the same tense, to not switch back and forth between past, present and future. But we still do it.

In fact, as we have started using the first setting in the ELW have you caught when we switch tenses when referring to Jesus. Open your hymnal now to page 109. Do you see it? Christ HAS died. Christ IS risen. Christ WILL come again. Christ is past present and future, Christ is truly eternal. And again in our reading from Revelation: “The Lord God who is and who was and who is to come.’” Past, present and future. Truly eternal. From the beginning to the ending. The alpha and omega, the A and the Z.
But what does this have to do with us now, here today? Jesus lived in bodily form a long time ago, the beginning was a really long time ago and hopefully the end will be a long time in the future.

Well Christ still was, is and will be. Christ has been in our lives, Christ is currently in our lives and Christ will continue to be in our lives. We have been beloved children of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever. Christ died for us, for our sins. Christ was sent into this world for us.

Today and each day we are given reminders of Christ’s love and grace for us. We are continually reminded of God’s love and grace through the bread and wine of the Lord’s Table. We are continually reminded of Christ love and grace through the healing and life giving waters of baptism. And we are continually reminded of Christ love and grace through the love, joy, and patience of friends, family, loved ones, and fellow members of the body of Christ.

And we will be resurrected with Christ into a life like his. We will be given eternal life with Christ in heaven.

We have been, are and will be given the forgiveness of our sins.
We have been, are and will be marked with the cross of Christ forever.
We have been, are and will be loved with a love so strong that God gave his only son to die for us.
We have been, are and will be given eternal life with Christ.

Christ is the King. He is the king of love. He is the king of forgiveness. He is the king of compassion. He is the king of grace. He is the king of us.

Even through his trial, suffering, crucifixion, death and burial, Christ was still King. Even when he was treated in a very un-king-like matter, as he was mocked, persecuted and was killed, Christ was still king. Even when people did not know that they belonged to the kingdom of heaven, Christ was still king.

And today even though we often stray from Christ, Christ is still king. Even though we do not always listen to his voice, Christ is still king. Even though we do not treat him as a king and worship other things besides him, Christ is still king. Even though we do not always know and obey the truth, Christ is still king.

And when the end times come, when the living and the dead are judge, Christ will be king. When people repent for their sins, Christ will be king.

For Christ was, is and will be king. Christ, the Lord God who is and who was and who is to come. For Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. For Christ is the king.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In-Gathering Sunday

I can't believe that I made it to Wednesday before posting about In-gathering Sunday. It has been a busy week, but that is good.

So for those of you who are not familiar with Bethlehem, you might be wondering what In-gathering Sunday is. Well I was too. I had heard about In-gathering Sunday when I first arrived at Bethlehem and while it was described to me a few times I was still confused at exactly what it was. Basically in a nutshell, it is the Sunday when everyone brings in food that is then donated to the food pantry for Redding Social Services. It is normally a few weeks before Thanksgiving but also during the Stewardship campaign for the next year so hopefully people make the connection that stewardship is about all of our resources which go to help others, not just money that goes to the church.

The altar is COVERED in produce and during the offering many people bring forward the bags and bags of food that are collected.

So unfortunately I don't have pictures of this year's altar yet. But here are two pictures from a previous year.

Standing at the altar amid all that food was spectacular! It also really added to all the illusions of communion being a feast.

What a visual joy!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bigger is not always Better

So Bethlehem is a small congregation, and I'm not knocking large churches in this sermon, I'm just hoping to point out that there is a place, reason and ministry for smaller congregations. The sermon is based on the gospel lesson from this week Mark 13:1-8 as well as references to the second lesson Hebrews 10:11-25

If you were to describe Bethlehem to a friend who knew nothing about this congregation what would you say?

How would you answer the question about how large the congregation is? About how many worship here and what the facilities are like?

In many of my conversations with you all over the last 5 months, there have been concerns about our congregation’s size. That we are small, that we tiny. There is no denying that we are a small congregation. Our average worship attendance is around 25, even less in the summer. So do you admit to others that we are a small church? Or do you skirt around the issue, maybe even apologizing that we are small, or justifying it – “well we only worship about 25 but we are a very active group.” I’m guilty of this too. At bishop’s convocation last month when I talked to pastor friends and they were asking me about this congregation I often said things like “Well we worship around 25 a Sunday, but at least that many people are involved in the congregation outside of worship every month.”

So here we are, people who attend a small church, even when the world is telling us that bigger is better.

Have you ever worshipped at a mega-church? They have programs galore! The calendars alone almost frighten me. Most mega churches have more things going on each day of the week than we have schedule within a entire month. And people go to them, flock to them. I know of people who drive over an hour one way to attend a mega church when hundreds, if not thousands, gather to worship together. Their Sundays school attendance is in the hundreds, a small group consist of 20 people. If you listen to some theologians and worship leaders - Mega-churches are the wave of the future! They are the way modern American’s do church. Bigger is better!

Then why? Why do you come here? Why do you worship here? Why do you participate in the faith community of this place? Why do you worship with only a handful of people? A place where we are happy if we get 5 people for Bible Study, a place where we have 6 Sunday school students in all the grades combined.

The disciples too were caught up in the bigger is better mentality. “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” They were in awe at the size of the temple in Jerusalem. They were like first time visitors to New York – constantly looking up – about to be hit by taxis because they can’t take their eyes away from all the big buildings, all the people, all bright lights. They were in awe by the size of the temple, and probably even felt a little ashamed that their group was so small.

But yet Jesus reminds them that bigger is not always better, that buildings are just buildings, things that will not last forever. Jesus warns the disciples that “not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” Jesus cautions his disciples to reject the things of this world, for the disciples are focused on the things of this world, on buildings and our bodies, on the when and the what, on when and what will happen when the world ends. Instead Jesus wants us to focus on the things of heaven, to focus on the spirit, on our heart’s intent on the how and the why, on the how and why we are loved by God and the how and the why we can show that love to others.

Things of this earth do not matter. The temple fell and yet Judaism continued. This building could be destroyed but yet Bethlehem Lutheran Church will continue. The church, with a small c, as in the building, is temporary, a thing of this world, and will someday no longer exist. But the Church, with a large C, as in the community of believers, is a thing of heaven and is everlasting. So when you get right down to it, I think none of us come to church (with a small c) here because of the excellent facilities – yes we may like the feel of this building, the look of the stain glass and the architecture, but that is all secondary. So why do you come here?

I laughed on Monday when I first read this gospel reading. All I could think of when I read the first verse “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” was Little Red Riding Hood. “Grandma, what large eyes you have” “The better to see you with my dear.” “Grandma, what large teeth you have.” “The better to eat you with my dear.” Bigger is not always better – for little red riding hood, the wolf’s bigger eyes meant less places to hide, the wolf’s bigger teeth meant she was much easier to be killed. For churches, bigger buildings mean more maintenance; bigger congregations mean less personal connection. And it is the personal connections, the personal relationship with one another and with Christ, that make us the Church (with a large C).

Ahh did I touch on it? Did I say maybe why you come to worship here? So it is not about the building, as blessed as we are to have it, as much as we have been entrusted to care for it. But it, the reason why we worship here, is not about the building, it is about the relationship. When you worship here you know most of the people here, not just their names but something about them, something about who they are. When you aren’t here you know that you are missed, and if you don’t show up a few weeks in a row, someone is probably going to call you and ask if you are okay, to see how you have been.

See that is the how and the why. The how and the why we worship here, the how and the why we are Christians. Jesus doesn’t care about the what and when, or even the where. Where you worship, what you do there, and when you do it. When the end times will happen or what will happen. Jesus cares about the how and the why. How and why do we care for others, how and why we, to use the example from our reading in Hebrews, provoke one another to love and good deeds, the how and the why we meet together and encourage one another.

Bigger is not always better. Bigger does not mean a better understanding of how and why we do things. In fact for many people it is the opposite, the larger the community, the less connected we are to each other, the less we care about how and why do things that we do as a community including worship and service. But here in this small community, we know some of the how and why we worship here. And yes sometimes we come just to make sure that others don’t call us to see if we have been sick.

As a community, we worship because of the relationship, but more importantly we worship because Jesus died for us. How? Jesus was crucified, died and was buried. Why? Because God loves us.

As a community, we are weekly given reminders of God’s grace. How? Through the waters of baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Table. Why? Because we are beloved children of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever.

As a community, we provoke one another to love and good deeds. How? Through the community relationship that have developed, through our service to the greater community. Why? Because Christ loves us and we have been sent out to share Christ’s love with others.

As a community, we are reminded that our sins are forgiven, our faith is lifted, our lives are recharged. As a community, we sing with joy and thanksgiving. As a community, we celebrate and mourn. As a community, we are the Church…with a capital C.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I have loved going on Facebook the last week or so. Okay first I must admit that I'm slightly addicted to Facebook. But over the last week or so, something has caught on and it is so empowering, so attitude of gratitude that is becoming contagious.

It all started with someone out there that challenged people to repost this in their status updates: Let's see how many people can do this. Every day this month until Thanksgiving, think of one thing that you are thankful for and post it as your status. "Today I am thankful for..." The longer you do it, the harder it gets! Now if you think you can do it then repost this message as your status to invite others to take the challenge, then post what YOU are thankful for today.

And it has caught on, as things often do in the Facebook world.

It is so wonderful to see friends post status about being thankful for family, friends, parents, warm homes, days off, jobs, and the list goes on.

So what are you thankful for?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Remembering a Mentor

One of my former pastors died this morning after suffering from complications after a fall.

Pastor Tom Herbranson was the senior pastor of Immanuel Lutheran in Eden Prairie, MN well before my family and I moved to Minnesota and retired during my senior year of high school. Pastor Tom was a joy and a delight. He always had a smile on his face, a big bear hug for whoever needed one, a wonderful voice, and a joke in his sermons that kept you listening.

He will be greatly missed. Though I thank God for Pastor Tom's ministry and his inspiration to me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Grace in Small Things

A friend of mine has recently been blogging about the Grace in Small Things. GIST was started in 2008 to help people take time every day to be thankful for some of the smaller things in life. I don't think I will blog daily about what I'm thankful for or where I see God's grace active in my life but maybe once a week I will try. So here are my five (out of many) for today.

A husband who lets me press snooze a few times while he gets up and makes tea

Beautiful spring like days in late fall

For the veterans who have served this country and others

For the neighbors down the road who I talk to daily on my morning walk as they wait for the oldest son's bus

For being able to listen live via internet to radio stations that do not broadcast in this area

Monday, November 9, 2009

When the Spirit Moves You...

Yesterday's Old Testament text was the Widow at Zarephath and the Gospel lesson was the Widow in the Temple Treasury.

I had struggled writing my sermon. Normally by the time I sit down to write the text on Thursday, I have thought about the text for quiet awhile and can write a good rough draft within an hour. Well on Thursday I spent over 3 hours and had two different starts, no end and definitely no rough draft. On Friday, after a discussion about the sermon with my husband< I was able to finish writing a sermon that I thought was okay. It wasn't one of my best sermons, but I was satisfied with it since I didn't know how to put things better.

Well on Sunday morning, which was the kickoff to our stewardship campaign for 2010, before the first lesson, one of the council members was discussing why he gives to the church. Jeff's point was that the church is a gift that we have been entrusted with, that we are the caretakers of. As I sat and listened to Jeff, I realized my sermon was all wrong. It had what I wanted to say, just not how I wanted to say it. And then as I re-heard the first lesson, read the psalm, and re-heard the second lesson, I knew I was being called to preach something else. So that by the time I approached the pulpit to read the gospel, I was ready to preach a different sermon on those two text than the one I prepared.

So what did I preach on? Well I can't quite remember it all. I know I talked a lot about how we are not the widows, how even the poorest among us are not waiting to die from starvation, or down to our last two coins. We are the rich, God has provided us with much through our jobs, talents, friends, family. God has provided us with cars, houses, clothing, food, love ones, jobs, and much much more.

I also discussed that the NRSV translation that I just read of Mark 12 leaves out a word. Jesus watched HOW the crowd was putting money into the treasury. I talked about how my vantage point of looking at the congregation during worship allows me to see how they worship. The ones who joyfully sing so that I can see their back molars, the ones who mutter along or don't bother singing at all. The ones who look desperate to be filled one week, drained from the stresses of life, and return the next week full of joy.

I probably rambled some, I probably did not make a very cohesive point, especially since this was my first time ever preaching without even notes. But it was the sermon that God was calling me to preach, not the one that was prepared. So hopefully it was the sermon that someone needed to hear. Amen!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fully Installed

Yes I am now fully installed - much like a dishwasher. On Sunday afternoon, Bethlehem hosted a worship of installation. The same band who played for my first Sunday played again for gathering music, joined the choir during the offertory anthem and joined with our organist for the sending hymn. The dean of the local conference of ELCA pastors presided for the beginning of the service and over the rite of installation, and the pastor from the church Bob and I attended last year in New Haven preached. All it all it was a wonderful service.

The sermon focused on the pastor being the shepherd, leading people to water at the baptismal font and food physically at the Lord's Table and spiritually at the pulpit as well as how we embody Christ when we share the peace with one another.

And of course afterward we had a wonderful reception. I am constantly amazed by Susan's ability to transform our regular old community room into an entertaining space.

It was a great afternoon of worship and evening of fellowship as we welcomed our guests.

And now all the celebrations are over (other than our open house) as I'm now official, official.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Death sucks

Happy belated All Saints Day! Yesterday afternoon was a little busy (hand my installation) so the sermon is going up today. The main text that this sermon was based on was John 11:32-45, but if you aren't familiar with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, I would suggest reading all of Chapter 11

I am not a huge fan of funerals. First off the reason why there is a funeral is because someone die – not really the best reason for a group of people to gather. Second, we face our own mortality as we mourn the loss of a loved one, a friend, a family member, a co-worker, a neighbor, or a colleague and at the same time we also face the reality that we too will die someday…there is nothing like the death of someone else to remind us that we too are going to die. I especially dislike the funeral procession from the church to the cemetery…nobody really likes driving at 10 miles per hour, even if it does mean that you get to run red lights. There is also that awkward moment that happens at the visitation, as you gather with a group of friends or family, people start telling stories about the deceased, then you often get into other stories and then you start laughing and eventually there one person who in the middle of the laughter looks over at the casket or urn and everyone who was just laughing gets quiet and starts to feel guilty about laughing at a funeral. But the worst is that as a pastor but even mourner, you often meet new people at funerals and as you are getting ready to leave that phrase that so naturally comes out of your mouth because it is appropriate any other time slips out as you say goodbye to these people that you just meet: It was so great to meet you. It was so great to meet you? You just meet at a funeral, what is great about that? Sure they are a nice person and you have about 40 friends in common and have just never met in person and if you were at a birthday, family reunion, county fair or anything else that would be appropriate, but at a funeral?

However there is one thing that I do like about funerals, the food. Often after a funeral, family and friends will gather either at a local restaurant or in the church for a reception. And most of the time, if you go to a restaurant, it is the decease’s favorite restaurant or at lest one that holds memories of the dearly departed. And if it is a luncheon at the church, at least one of the favorite foods of the deceased is represented. At Bob’s grandma’s (Grandma Dixie’s) funeral, everyone had a Coke on Dixie, even hard core Pepsi drinkers, because it was her favorite drink. At my grandpa’s everyone had to have a Milwaukee’s Best, as gross as those beers are, because it is what he always drank. I have seen people who can’t stand the smell of lutefisk eat it at a funeral in honor of the one who just died.

And as we eat, we tell stories, favorite memories, things that we will miss, pet peeves that the deceased did that drove us crazy, and the healing begins. Laughter begins to flow, the person’s life is celebrated and we start the grief process, for some the grief process will last just days and for others a few years. But it is in eating, something, which is an act solely of the living, that we mourn and celebrate the life of the one who is dead. In this act of the living, we realize that we are not yet dead, that our life will go on, and eventually we will come to accept the death of the one we lost.

Maybe that is why Martha didn’t want Jesus to move the stone from Lazarus’ tomb. Yes she was afraid of the smell, for he had been dead for four days, but as the hostess, the housekeeper, the one who runs around getting all the details together, the one in charge of the party, she realized that nothing would ruin a funeral feast like the smell of someone who has been dead for a few days. Lazarus was dead, for four days! For four day now Mary, Martha and others had been mourning his death and celebrating his life. The grief process had started. Martha realized that Lazarus was indeed dead, she had come to some level of acceptance in her mourning process and returning to see his body, wrapped in cloth, placed in its tomb, would not bring Lazarus back.

But Jesus brought Lazarus back to life. He thanked God for always hearing him and he called out, shouted actually in the Greek, out to Lazarus to come out of his tomb, out of his grave. And Lazarus came out, in fact he walked out. This was not just a healing miracle like Jesus had done before, allowing the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk. Jesus brought someone who was dead back to life. And so back to life that he later serves a meal to Jesus.

But what about us? What about the people who we remember today? Why didn’t Jesus bring them back to life? As much as we begged, pleaded and prayed that they would come back to life again, they are still dead, not here with us today. Why is Lazarus so special?

Well that I can’t answer you, but I can tell you that I’m glad I am not Lazarus’s family. It is not part of today’s gospel text, in fact it is not in the gospels at all. But Lazarus dies again! The only other time we hear about Lazarus after this is that meal he serves to Jesus in the following chapter and that people then plot to kill Lazarus. So while we may not hear about it, Lazarus does die again. He is not still alive, walking around on this earth over 2000 years old. No Lazarus died again, was even the target of a murder plot, and all those people who mourned his death for 4 days had to do it all over again. Funerals are bad enough, the grief process is hard enough, to start picturing your life without a loved one is horrible enough, but to have to do it twice!? And the second time to know that he was probably murdered and did not die of illness as he died the first time, yeah I don’t think I would want to go through that twice.

So where is the good news for us in this text? It reminds us that we are mortal, it makes us frustrated, sad, jealous that our loved one was not brought back to life. What then is the gospel? What then are we suppose to get out of it?

Well today is All Saints Day, a day when the church remembers the lives of the saints who have gone before us. But we also must remember that we are all Saints, here and now. We do not become saints at our earthly death but we become saints at our spiritual death, at our baptisms. We become saints when we are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. We become saints not when we die a physical death but when we die a spiritual death with Christ. We were drown in the waters of baptism, baptized into death with Christ, but we were also baptized into life and resurrection with Christ. We have already died and been brought back to life.

And in baptism we were baptized into the communion of all the saints, including Lazarus. We were baptized so that we could be unbound from the items of this earth that ties our heart and minds so that we might serve others. We have been baptized into death but also into a life and into service.

So yes there may not be that much good news in today’s gospel lesson, there might not be that much to take heart in, only the sorrow of remembering those who have died before us, whether they died last week, last year or even years ago. We are still mourning those people’s physical deaths. But on this All Saints Day, as we mourn, we all celebrate. We celebrate new life, both physical life and spiritual life. We celebrate and thank God for those who have come into our lives within the last year and those who have come into a life with Christ. We doe this as we also mourn and thank God for those who have died and have touched our lives.

Isn’t that such Lutheran theology, the balance between the two, the juxtaposition? Mourning while celebrating, being a saint while also a sinner, remembering the dead while participating in acts of the living, being in the world but not of the world, law and gospel, baptism being both death and a new life.

So maybe funerals aren’t that bad after all. For in that awkward moment after a good laugh or the “It was great to meet you” comment we remember that we are alive and as much as it might suck at times to live after a loved one has died, we are alive. We are alive with Christ! Christ, who has already died the ultimate death for us. Christ, who we have already died with in baptism, so that eventually we will be able to live again in heaven with Christ and with all of our loved ones who we mourn today and each day.