Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rethinking Ourselves as Stewards

The last day of the Rethinking Stewardship conference (parts 1, 2, & 3) was officially entitled "Rethinking Stewardship,"  but since that was the title of the conference I'm renaming it "Rethinking Ourselves as Stewards"  It could also be retitled "Rethinking Ourselves as Stewardship Leaders" but well that is too long.

This last portion of the conference focused on tying together the three previous parts of the conference, as well as discussing how we, as leaders, can better help people see themselves as stewards.  Our presenters were David Loose, Daniel Conway and a tag-team presentation by Janet and Philip Jamieson.

David started us out by discussing the idea of digital pluralism, the idea that we plugged into so many different ways of receiving information that we are overwhelmed them all. But these different ways of distributing information have developed because everyone is looking for a place where they belong and a sense of purpose.  By focusing on connecting people and giving them a way to be full of meaning and purpose we will allow them to become stewards.

Daniel focused on two questions: What do you own?  And What owns you?  When we realize that many of the things that we own also own us, we are able to take better control over them and realize that stuff is just stuff.  In doing so we will become better stewards in a holistic sense.

The last presentation was by Janet and Philip, who discussed the need for us to become bilingual.  We cannot just use "church-speak" in order for people to understand the importance of being stewards.  When we speak just one language we are alienating people.  We must be able to speak the language of finance, economy and money along with the language of theology in order to talk to people about being stewards.

My questions from this section are:

  • How can I use digital pluralism to help reach out to those who might not otherwise be involved in the church?
  • How can the church pluralize to reach out to more people?
  • How do I let things own me?
  • What language do I speak and how is that language alienating others? 

Friday, July 30, 2010

Rethinking Our Practices

On Tuesday afternoon we continued Rethinking Stewardship conference I attended.  (parts 1 & 2)  After lunch we transfered to Rethinking Our Practices: How do we talk about stewardship?  How do we enable other's to give? What messages are we giving to others by our practices about stewardship?

Mark Allen Powell, Ed Kruse and Mary Sue Dreier led us in this discussion.  This was actually the second time I had seen Mark speak, the first at bishop's convocation this last fall (which apparently I didn't blog about).  After hearing him in October I got (and read) his book Giving to God.  Now much of his talk this time was an abbreviated version of what I heard in October and read in his book, but he is an excellent speaker and was very entertaining after lunch.  His main point was "what are the stewardship practices that you are doing actually saying about stewardship?"  As leaders in the church, pastors and others often do not want to talk about stewardship and the importance of giving and then we wonder why others are not giving.  We need to talk about money in church, and not just about giving to the church but also about managing, using and acquiring our money in godly ways.

He was followed by Ed, the director of stewardship in the ELCA, who discussed the need for story when talking about stewardship.  People are more apt to give to charities that they relate to, they are more apt to give to God when they hear how giving generously has changed the lives of others.  Story in our stewardship practices are important but often forgotten.

Mary Sue Dreier was our last speaker in what turned into a very long day (talking about anything for 10 hours  gets long).  Mary Sue talked about the future of practices.  Is pledging still a good way to ask people to give money?  How can we get away from the offering plate and fulfilling the budget in order to help people grow as stewards.  We all know there are more ways to give then just by putting a check or cash into the offering plate, and as we talk more about being stewards and stewardship, we will find many new ways opening to us.

Some questions I thought of during this conversation:

  • How do I feel when people talk about money with me?
  • How can I better discuss, preach on and instill finances and stewardship into my conversations without others thinking that I'm looking down on them?
  • How have I learned to be a steward?  How can I teach others through my actions?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rethinking Our Theology

Tuesday was a jammed packed day at the Rethinking Stewardship conference.  On Monday we discussed Rethinking Our Culture and we continued to rethink.  In the morning we discussed theology with Fred Gaiser, Martha Stortz, and Eric Barreto.

Fred started the conversation about theology by looking at some biblical text that are not often used in discussing  stewardship.  The one he focused on was Deuteronomy 14:26 "spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together."  What a beautiful text!  So often scripture is used to tell people exactly how to spend their money, but instead here is a scripture verse that says spend your money how you want, but do so in a way that is celebrates what God has given you.  Let's get away from stewardship being a program to get people to pay the church's heating and light bills and instead turn towards stewardship as a way to celebrate and rejoice together. 

Martha's presentation was about finding a Luther understanding of stewardship - we are all priests, we are all neighbors and we are all Christ.  Stewardship is part of our vocation, our calling, as part of the priesthood of all believers.  We become stewards when we care for our neighbors, and through being stewards others see Christ in us.  I believe it was in Martha's presentation that she had a picture of a woodcut or sculpture up on the powerpoint.  It was of a woman standing with a basket of fruit and lifting her hands to the upper corner where their was a young boy with an apple.  Was this woman giving the fruit to the boy or was she receiving the apple from him.  In being stewards, we become both givers and receivers.  

Eric focused on Luke and Acts as ways we interact with scripture when it comes to possessions, money, the poor and the rich.  He discussed a variety of verses from Luke and Acts to illustrate how scripture is used in churches across the world to discuss various topics within the idea of stewardship.  

Some questions that arose for me during the Rethinking Our Theology portion of the conference were:

  • What subliminal messages are we sending about God through stewardship practices within the congregation? 
  • Why do we always focus on the budget and church attendance instead of growing faithful disciples of Christ?
  • How can we rethink scripture to better preach on being stewards and not budget-meeters?
  • Why do conferences never order enough vegetarian meals?  (random side note, I had to walk to Chipotle for lunch since my group was one of the last to get lunch and they ran out of vegetarian meals) On a related question: if people are not vegetarian but prefer to eat vegetarian if there is an option, why do they not write that down in the food concerns portion of the registration form?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rethinking Our Culture

Sorry for the delay in getting to the four portions of the Rethinking Stewardship conference I attended last week.  My internet usage was spotty and I ended up spending a lot of time with family and friends while still in Minnesota.

The first portion of the conference was entitled "Rethinking Our Culture" and featured Michael Emerson, Gary Moore and Jill Schumann as the speakers.  A sociologist, an economist and a CEO, not the actor, musician and CEO.

Michael, as the first speaker, introduced the idea of rethinking our culture, by giving a variety of facts and figures about why people give and don't give money and if every "strong" Christian tithed, how much more money would be available to churches to spend on doing God's work.  His talk was intriguing and insightful about why people give and how to use that information to encourage people to give.  One fact I found shocking was that when "strong Christians" (i.e. regular worshipers) were polled, and asked how they would respond if their congregation required all families to tithe (give 10% of their post-tax income to the church) in order to be a member of good standing, only 8% would start tithing, but 20% would drop out of church life entirely, not bothering to go to a different congregation.  Money, income especially, is considered a deeply personal issue.

Gary continued this idea about how culture affects our giving by discussing finances, especially the impact of the financial decline in the last 3 years.  He focused on Ayn Rand (who I had never heard of) and her followers and how they have effected the world economy.  Ayn Rand was the founder of Objectivism and lived a philosophy that more is better and how that effects others is not your concern.  Gary's talk was packed full of information, in fact too much for a brief 40 minute presentation, and I felt lost through most of the talk since I did not know who Rand was and her philosophy was never fully explained (therefore I apologize if I got it wrong).  The talk was also negative in tone which turns me off, and our discussion afterwards was kinda lost and confused until we turned to the idea of "now what" which got me on my soap box.

But in contrast to Gary's presentation, Jill's was extremely positive and hopeful about how current and future trends can help us rethink how people want and need to give.  She focused on four main trends: focus and loci (people can be very specific about what they want), boundaries are blurring (corporations are getting into non-profits and vice versa), positivity (people want to hear more about the good things and less about the bad), and technology (social networking especially has allowed people to have a global community and to find those things they are interested in).  Three out of these four trends I mentioned when I was on my soapbox during the previous discussion.  We need to use these four trends, and others, and adapt to how people want to give and make those opportunities available.  At the end of the day, I was able to talk to Jill and thank her for being so positive.  So often, especially in church work, either these trends are ignored or if they are mentioned they are looked down upon because that is "not the way we have always done it."  It was encouraging to hear someone else bring up these trends and see them in a positive light.  Unfortunately the majority of the people in my discussion group did not catch on to the fact that these trends can be and are good things.

I was going to end with the three questions that we were asked at the end of each presentation, but they don't make a lot of sense out of context so instead I'll ask three questions that arose for me:

  • Why do you give?  How do you respond when people ask you to give more?
  • How have you been effected by the financial changes over the last 3 years?  Have you seen yourself giving more or less of your time and money as a result?
  • What is one trend that you see developing?  How can that be used as a tool to help others learn about and give to churches, charities and causes?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Questions about work and stuff

Good Morning

Sorry for the day delay, airports and airplanes do not have the best internet access.

This coming Sunday we will be worshipping outdoors, in the beauty of God’s sanctuary. Please bring lawn chairs or blankets to sit on during worship. The service itself will be similar to what we are used to but also different enough to add some variety to our worship lives.

After worship will be a potluck picnic. Hot dogs, hamburgers and veggie burgers will be provide by Ancona’s, but please let myself or Ellen Grunsell know that you are coming and how many meat products you want so that we make sure we have ample but not abundant food available.

Also this coming Sunday is the start of Lydmilla’s new contract year as our church musician, please come and give thanks for her many talents and skills that have graced and blessed our worship over the past few years and hopefully for many years to come.

A few of you may be asking yourself or others where I was this past Sunday. Last week I was able to attend a conference on stewardship sponsored by Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. I then had the blessing and honor to stick around the Twin Cities area through the weekend in order to baptize Bob and my nephew/godson. You can check out my blog at in the next few days for more information about the stewardship conference and the baptism.

Now onto the text:

The first lesson is Ecclesiastes1:2,12-14; 2:18-23. For what reason do you work? For a paycheck? A clean home? Food from the field? For the joy you receive from a job well done? Because you enjoy working hard? For your manager/boss/supervisor to swoop in last minute and take all the credit? We work for many reason, for what reason do you work? Do you see this as good or bad?

The second lesson is Colossians 3:1-11. What is earthly in your life? Do you wish to put those things to death? How do those things separate you from others? How can you put Christ first so that he is all and in all?

The gospel is Luke 12:13-21. When have you made plans for them to fall through? What balance have you found between saving for the future, spending and enjoying life today and giving to those in need? How is he a judge and arbitrator? How is he not?

Hope you have a wonderful week!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rethinking Stewardship

This week I have been attending the Rethinking Stewardship conference held by Luther Seminary for continuing education.  I chose attending this conference for both personal and professional reasons.

Personally, the conference was held at a church about a mile and a half from my parents house.  So I have been staying at my parent's home and am now going to stick around for the next few days to visit family and friends.  Plus as an added bonus (I know I sound like an info-mericial) we were asked to be godparents/baptismal sponsors for our nephew who will be baptized this coming Sunday.  It was/is nice to be able to spend time with family outside of the conference.  And on a stewardship note, staying and my parents and eating their food has been a way I have been a good steward of the congregation's finances.  So yes coming to the conference has been a great excuses to see family, but I probably would have still attended this conference even if it wasn't in my hometown.

Professionally, I was interested in attending this conference because stewardship is a topic that I think is often misunderstood in the church.  Quiet often we equate stewardship solely with money and with giving money to the church so the church can pay the bills.  But stewardship is so much larger, it is about taking care of what God has given us: the whole creation, our bodies, our families, our mental health and our finances and possessions. This disconnect is not often preached about or otherwise taught in churches and as part of my ministry at Bethlehem I want to be able to help the congregation understand stewardship as the second definition and not the first.

I was also interested in the format of the conference.  Most events I have been to, there is either one or a small handful of keynote speakers that talk at you for an hour or so at a time and then maybe some workshops.  And with workshops I often have the problem of choosing which ones I want to go to - it always seems like if there are four workshop times, I have too many options for three times and the fourth I'm not interested in any of the workshops.

For this conference, the organizers scheduled 12 keynote addresses (yes 12!) and after each speaker there was time for small group discussion.  The schedule was broken up into four sections of three speakers:  rethinking culture, rethinking theology, rethinking practices, and rethinking stewardship.  It was actually a wonderful format, being able to hear each speaker and having time to discuss and decompress the ideas presented before moving on to another topic/speaker.

Over the next week or so I plan on writing about each of these four topics, what I've gotten out of this conference and what I hope to pass on to the members of Bethlehem.  In the meantime feel free to check out the conference's website.  In the next few days power points from some of the presenters should be up along with other extras.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Home Alone

This last week my husband, Bob, was in Philly for Americorp VISTA program training Tuesday through Friday.

This was the first time in our four years of marriage that he has left me home alone for a few nights, normally it is the other way around. A few months after we were married I left for an overnight trip for a junior high youth gathering. A few weeks later I was gone for a bishop’s convocation. Since then I have been gone for at two synod assemblies, three trips to visit friends, one senior high youth gathering, two trips to the ELCA Youth Ministry Network extravaganza, one other bishop’s convocation, Baby pastor school and a trip to Calumet. If you are keeping track that is at least 13 trips (I may have forgotten one or two). Most of which were at least two nights, a few were a bit longer.

In all these trips, I try to be good and give Bob a call at some point in the evening when I know he will be heading for bed, and then again in the morning when I'm getting ready for the day.  But that doesn't always happen.  Being the social person that I am, I often get wrapped in hanging out with people and next thing you know it is 1am and therefore as a result the next morning I wake up late and then I'm rushed to get moving (plus I have been known to forget my phone charger rendering me less able to call him). Granted he will call me when he is going to bed and I walk away from the group for a few minutes, but often it is too loud to talk for very long.

Well this time it was the other way around.  Bob was left to call me while I was at home going stir crazy for lack of having someone to talk to, other than the dogs (but I'm not the type of person who will carry on a full conversation with the dogs).  And when I called him, he was out at bars socializing not really able to talk for long.

When I picked Bob up at the train station on Friday he said something that I completely agreed with:  It was good to be on the other foot.  We both now have better idea about what it means to be the one at home or the one away.  Bob realized about 3 hours into  his orientation that the best thing his is going to get out of the conference was networking, the stuff presented he could have read in a book.  So he went outside his normal comfort-zone and spent evenings hanging out with the other VISTA workers and got to know them.  Meanwhile I now know what it is like to sit at home and wait around and how stir crazy it can get.

And on Saturday, the first day post-conference, I normally want to stay at home and relax and Bob wants to do something since he has been home all week....well this time it again was reversed.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Questions about persistence

Good Morning

Mark your calendars Sunday August 1st is our outdoor worship and picnic. If you plan on attending the picnic please email myself or Ellen Grunsell with how many hot dogs, hamburgers and veggie burgers you and your family will eat so we can relay that information to Anconas who is donating the meat. You can also sign up on the sheet in the community room. For the worship please bring lawn chairs or blankets and a salad or dessert for the picnic.

This week’s book of faith puzzler is: Who was the reigning emperor of Rome when John the Baptist began his ministry?
Last week’s question was: There are two times in the Old Testament when animals talk, can you name one of them. Those two times are The two times were the serpent who talked to Eve in Genesis 3:4-5 and the donkey who warned Balaam in Numbers 22:22-30.

This week our text are about persistence. Abraham being persistent with God when trying to save Sodom and Gomorrah and Jesus telling us to be persistent in prayer.

The first lesson is Genesis 18:20-32. This Sodom and Gomorrah are most well known in debates about homosexuality, however this text Abraham bargains with God to save the cities for a few righteous people. How many righteous people did Abraham believe were in the city? When have you bargained with others? Have you been successful? When have you bargained with God? Have you been successful? How can this text be both a good and bad example for how we should communicate with God? Do you believe that we should bargain with God?

The second lesson is Colossians 2:6-19. We often talk about baptism being a new life in Christ, but in this lesson, Paul talks about how we are buried with Christ in baptism. How is baptism both a death and a new life? Paul warns about philosophies and traditions that can keep us from faith, what are some of those modern philosophies and traditions?

The gospel is Luke 11:1-13. This version of the Lord’s Prayer is slightly different than what we say in worship every week. Does hearing the Lord’s Prayer in new language help you better understand what it means? If so google “Lord’s Prayer international” for many different versions of the Lord’s Prayer said in various denominations throughout the world (my personal favorite for beautiful language and opening up the meaning is from the Anglican Church of New Zealand). The second part of this text is a parable about a friend at midnight. At what time do you lock the door to helping friends? Do you sometimes give in to others solely because of their persistence? The third part has the poetic verse 9 “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” When should you be persistent? When is it difficult to stop asking, searching and knocking?

Have a great week!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

High Expectations

This sermon takes the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 and looks at why Martha was so busy and what was it that Jesus really wanted from her and us.

It's not my best but enjoy!

If you were going to have someone over for dinner, or have a party at your home, what would be on your to do list? Shopping, cooking, cleaning, sometimes cleaning rooms that you know your guest will not even go in, or making sure the baseboards are dust free and there are no cobwebs in the corners of the living room. We become like Martha and almost drive ourselves crazy with the long to do list when we welcome people into our homes. We occasionally get so caught up in getting the list done and making sure everything is perfect, that we don’t have time to sit and spend time with our guest, constantly worried that everyone has something to drink, that the temperature of the room is comfortable, that the food is not burning, that there is enough food set out. We get so worried that everyone else is having a good time, that often we ourselves are not able to have a good time and sometimes even make our guest less comfortable since it is obvious that we are not comfortable. In the act of extending hospitality we get worried about being perfect and distracted over the details that we end up not being very hospitable.

So now imagine that you are going to someone else’s house for dinner or for a party, what do you expect them to have done? Most of the time we just want to have a good time. We expect that food is edible and the place is clean enough that you aren’t disgusted. Most people do not check the baseboards and corners for dust and cobwebs. Most people are not expecting a 5 course meal with each course presented artistically and served at it pique temperature. Instead you expect to spend time with your host and fellow guest, to have delightful conversation, and relax.

Our expectations for ourselves are often higher than other’s expectations of us. Martha was so overwhelmed with being a good host to Jesus that she became worried and distracted and was not able to spend time with him. What she thought Jesus wanted of her in order to be a good host, doing all the housework, was not what Jesus actually wanted of her, to sit and listen.

And the same is true for us. We have these expectations in mind about what it means to be a good Christian – worshiping regularly, not sinning, giving money to the church and charities, volunteering our time. And those are all great things, but sometimes they get in the way of our faith. Sometimes we are too busy with that checklist that we aren’t able to truly listen to the word.

It happens all the time, Christians are too rushed to be in worship on time, or worried about saying the correct response, or adults are worried that their children remain quiet or one becomes distracted by making sure they remember to talk to so and so after worship about the committee meeting later in the week, Christians, including us (especially pastors) get so worried about being perfect and distracted by the details that we are not able to listen to God’s word, when that is what we are suppose to be doing.

In committee meetings we get bogged down with the details, with making sure that a program is the best use of our resources or that we are obeying all city ordinances and not breaking health code violations or OSHA laws that we aren’t able to do ministry. We get worried about being perfect and distracted by the details that we are not able to do God’s work, even when that is what we are suppose to be doing.

In evangelism efforts, we become worried about increase worship attendance often in order to meet the church’s budget. We get worried about being perfect and distracted by the details that we are not able to tell other’s about God’s grace, even when that is what we are suppose to be doing.

Our expectations for ourselves are high, or should I say what we think God expects of us are high expectations. In last week’s gospel when the lawyer asks what must he do to inherit eternal life he answers his own question by saying “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Well that is an awfully big to do list. Those are expectations we are never going to meet; we will never live up to them, always falling short.

But maybe we are putting those expectations too high. Mary sat at Jesus feet and listened to him and probably even asked a few questions. Last week in the story that Jesus tell, the Good Samaritan takes care of a stranger. That is all Jesus wants, for us to take the time to listen to his word, for us to take the time to help out those in need. Put Jesus first, let everything else follow.

In commentaries and Sunday School lessons on today’s gospel, Martha often gets pictured as someone who always runs around and never stops to listen to Jesus and Mary gets classified as someone who never does housework and only spends her days listening to Jesus. But we can’t be that extreme and I’m sure Mary and Martha wasn’t that extreme. I’m sure Mary did housework when it was need, but she also knew when it was not needed, when the dishes and vacuuming and cleaning could wait to another time. Mary puts Jesus, and not housework first.

And by doing so Jesus will not be taken away from her. Because Mary put Jesus first, she will always have Jesus, even after his death, even when her brother Lazarus dies. She will have Jesus in her moments of doubt, she will have Jesus throughout her life.

And so too, when we put Jesus first, when we forget about the details, the distractions and give up our worries we will always have Jesus. When we take the time to truly listen to God’s word in worship, we will truly worship. When we take the time to truly do ministry, then God’s work will happen in this world. When we take the time to tell others about Jesus, others will hear about his love and grace in this world.

And when we do that Jesus will never be taken away from us. Jesus is with us when we worship, when we do ministry, when we tell others about him and once Jesus is with us, he will never depart us. He is with us in our moments of joy and happiness and our periods of sorrow and despair. He is with us when we have moments of complete faith and in our moments of doubts. Jesus is with us today and that can never be taken away from us, regardless of what we think he expects from us.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Questions about Hospitality

Good Morning!

I hope you all had a rest-filled weekend and are gearing up for the week ahead.

Just somethings to mark on your calendar and then I will get to the readings for this coming week.
Sunday August 1st will be an outdoor worship and church picnic Bring your lawn chairs for worship and a side dish or dessert to share, plus any yard games. Hot dogs and hamburgers will be provided by Ancona's. In case of bad weather we will still have lunch, though inside and we will worship indoors that week and hope to then move outside on the 8th.

Yesterday council decided to have a pasta dinner on Saturday September 25 as a kick-off to raise funds to help renovated the basement. Mark your calendars! More details to come.

The book of faith puzzler for this week is: There are two times in the bible when animals talk, can you name one of them? If you know the answer, email it to me and all correct answers will be put into a drawing. The winner will be announced on Sunday in worship.  (You can play on the blog too, just leave a message)

Now onto the lessons:

This weeks text are about hospitality. In the 1st lesson, Genesis 18:1-10a, Abraham extends hospitality to traveling strangers. In return they prophesied that Abraham and Sarah would soon have a son. When have strangers been hospitable to you? When have you been hospitable to strangers? Do you expect anything in return?

The 2nd lesson is Colossians 1:15-28. Paul tells why he has become "a servant of the gospel." How are you a servant of the gospel? Why are you a servant of the gospel? What are something you do that you might not otherwise do in order to extend hospitality to someone that you might not otherwise do, all because of your faith?

The gospel is Luke 10:38-42 the story of Jesus visiting Mary and Martha. Martha is busy doing many task while Mary sits and Jesus' feet and listens to him. When have you received hospitality from someone like Martha who is so busy making sure everything is in order that they don't visit with you? When have you received hospitality from someone like Mary who sits and talks to you even though the house is messy and dinner is not getting made? What does it feel like to receive both types of hospitality? Which would you rather receive?

Hop you all have a great week!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Asking Questions and Finding Answers

This week the gospel text is Luke 10:25-37 which is better known to many of us as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  While there have been millions of sermons preached on who is our neighbor, there was something about the lawyer asking questions that struck me as I was reading commentaries this week, especially Marilyn Salmon's commentary at  So instead of preaching about neighbors I preached about how important asking questions is to our faith lives.

Oh and some of the congregations questions: Why do bad things happen to good people? Where do bad people go in after life?  Does God forgive us even when...?

What are some of your questions about faith?


What are some of your questions about faith, God, Christian living, spirituality?

We all have them, these questions, questions where the answers seem to constantly changing. Our answers evolve throughout our lives. They change based on our life circumstances, where we are in our faith lives, our personal lives. The answers change based on what we have been reading, who are our friend, what our political views are. The answers change from when we are young children, to teenagers, to young adults, and I’m told those answers will continue to change even more as one continues to age.

Answers are what I think the lawyer was seeking when he tested Jesus by asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He wasn’t trying to trick Jesus into giving an unacceptable answer so that he could find reason to have Jesus arrested. He was testing to see if Jesus’ teachings were able to help him find answers.

The good thing about these questions is that we often already know the answers even though they are always changing. Sometimes it takes prodding from others for us to come to our current answer. Sometimes it takes deep thought, reflection, and conversation to come to the answer. And sometimes even after we come to a firm answer, one conversation, one quote, one prayer, one bible verse, one song will change the answer for us.

These questions are one that we have to ask for ourselves. And the answers are ones that we have to resolve for ourselves. Jesus knew this. And Jesus knew the lawyer was truly seeking answers to his questions. Jesus didn’t reply “why do you test me” or called him a hypocrite. This is why he doesn’t just answer the lawyer’s questions with his answers. Instead he asks questions and tells stories in return. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Well what is written in the law? You should know this since you are a lawyer. Who is my neighbor? Let me tell you a story…now who acted as a neighbor?

The lawyer answered the questions for himself. He didn’t leave the conversation with Jesus’ answers, he left with his own.

Asking these questions and developing answers are part of a growing faith, a strong faith. They are what help us see God in our lives today. They are what help us relate scripture, the newest of which was written almost 2000 years ago with our lives today. These questions and answers are what allow us to have faith and lead others to faith.

Quite often people ask questions and their questions are either not validated or an answer is just given to them with the idea that they must agree with the answer entirely and there is no chance for discussion. When this occurs it causes people to walk away from religion and pretty often faith as a whole. Instead these questions should be allowed to be asked and time should be taken for the asker to find their own answer.

Jesus took the time to help the lawyer answer his question. In fact he even takes time to help with a follow-up question. And not just by asking a question in return but by telling a story, a fairly detailed story, so that the lawyer could explore what it means to be a neighbor. And this isn’t the only time Jesus takes the time to answer people’s questions: Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners? Why don’t your disciples fast? Why do you break Sabbath law to heal the sick and feed the hungry? Who can forgive sins but God alone? Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? Whose sins caused this man to be blind? Is it lawful to pay taxes? Will you remember me when you come into your kingdom?

And Jesus takes the time to help us explore and answer our own questions. Through his words that were written in scripture, we are able to see his thought on a variety of topics: eternal life, neighbors, sins, family, friends, money, government and the list goes on. Through wisdom and insight given through the Holy Spirit to various scholars, writers, pastors and preachers throughout history, we are able to explore how others have answered the same questions we have. Through God’s love and grace, we have been given people to help us explore these questions. We have parents, teachers, friends, colleagues, children, and even strangers to help us explore these questions, sometimes we explore them when the other ask the questions, sometime when we ask them.

God has given us these gifts so that we can answer these questions for where we are now in life. And God will continue to give us these gifts so that we can continue to answer these questions. And God even gives us the answers sometimes. In bread and wine, in water, in words of scriptures, in Christ’s love and grace through the presence of those around us, sometimes we just need to be open to both the answers and the questions.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Following the Leaders

The other week a few Stitch and Bitch friends post a meme of sorts and I thought I would follow along.

1. What’s your staple meal (ie. what meal do you cook most often when you can’t be bothered to be adventurous)?
Depends on the season.  Summer tends to be salads or veggies and veggie burgers on the grill.  Fall and early winter are roasted root veggies.  Winter I go for perogies and soup.  Spring is salads and sandwiches.  And fancy mac and cheese is a year round staple. 

2. What do you want to be when you grow up?
As a kid I wanted to be a singer (HA) a forest ranger, and an environmentalist/conservationist/tree hugger.  I started college intending to be a high school math teacher.  Now I'm content as a pastor and I haven't given thoughts to another call and really have no desire to be a bishop or work on synod/churchwide staff. Let's see if those words come back to haunt me ;-) 

3. What book are you reading at the moment (if any)?
I always have two books (three counting the Bible).  Currently I'm a little over half way through The Girl who Played with Fire by Steig Larson for fun reading.  Ministry related I'm reading Teaching Godly Play by Jerome Berryman.  And for devotional reading I'm in the middle of Numbers.  In fact I just read one of my favorite random Old Testament stories last night - Balaam and his donkey - Numbers 22-24

4. How do you relax?
Watching tv, needlepointing, going for a long walk, talking with friends, reading a good book.  

5. What color are the interior walls of your home?
Kitchen - orangish yellow, livingroom/diningroom - greenish blue, sitting room - tan, downstairs bath - purply blue, bedroom - lilac, office - light green, upstairs bath - white (I was denied a red bathroom!)

6. What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Probably crappy tv, so it is a good thing that I can only watch tv online since there is not the option of getting sucked into an all day Toddlers and Tiara's marathon or How the Earth began or those other shows that you have on as background noise but 4 hours later can't pull yourself away from.

7. What time is bedtime and getting up time?
While Bob was in school, bedtime was around 11 and we got up at 7.  Since he hasn't been going to school it really depends on what we have scheduled but still roughly the same.

8. How long do you spend reading blogs (per day or per week)?
Normally an hour every other day or so, so maybe 4 hours a week.  But lately I've been playing catch up from vacation so I'm closer to an hour a day.  

Monday, July 5, 2010

Monday Morning Church

For the last few months I have been sending out an email typically on Monday morning* to members and friends of Bethlehem with some thoughts and many a questions about the upcoming Sunday's text. Today I thought I should start added those emails here.

I hope you all are having a wonderful day, especially if you have the day off from work and that you are staying cool.

Three quick announcements/reminders about this coming week:

  • Thursday at noon is Senior lunch. Due to some concerns mentioned in worship, the location has been switched to The Sunset Grill in Norwalk. If you plan on attending, please contact Lillian Johnson, or reply to this email.
  • Next Sunday after worship is a special berry fest coffee hour. The raspberries around the church property are starting to ripen and they should be ready to sample by next Sunday. If you have a favorite berry dish, please bring it to share!
  • Also Congregational Council is meeting after worship on Sunday.

Now onto this Sunday's readings. This week, our gospel reading is one of many people's favorite parables, the good Samaritian, but first let's look at the 1st and 2nd lesson.

The first lesson is Deuteronomy 30:9-14 It is very human to think that people who have wealth or are gaining wealth have been looked upon favorably by God and those who are poor or losing their wealth have been looked upon unfavorably by God. How is this understanding of God and wealth good? How does it hinder our faith? What does it say about those who are poor but have a strong faith or those those are rich who do not acknowledge God? How does God make you abundantly prosperous?

The second lesson is Colossians 1:1-14. Paul and Timothy write to the people of Colossae of their prayers for them. When have you had someone specifically pray for you? What is it like when they tell you they have been praying for you? Who do you pray for?

The gospel lesson is Luke 10:25-37, the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus answers the first question "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" by the lawyer answering the question with the law to: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." How difficult is it to keep these laws? How do you put yourself before God and neighbors? Jesus answers the second question: "Who is my neighbor?" by telling the parable of a man who is left for dead being avoided by a priest and Levite (people who are suppose to care and are of kin to the man) but care for above and beyond what was needed by a Samaritan (a total stranger from a different culture). Therefore the "one who showed mercy" is a neighbor. How do you show mercy to others? How have you received mercy from others? How is it easier to show mercy on someone far away (Haiti post earthquake, starving children in Africa) than it is to show mercy on someone closer to home (homeless person on the street, a person whose car broke down on the side of the road, the family of loud misbehaving children at the restaurant)?

I hope these questions pique some thoughts and discussion. If you would like to continue the conversation please respond with your thoughts or come to bible study on Wednesday night at the parsonage when we will look deeper at these text.

Have a blessed week (and stay cool)

* Monday morning, but sometimes that means Monday afternoon, or Tuesday and once even Wednesday.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Building Community through Mission

The focus of this week's sermon is Jesus sending the 70 out to "every town and place where he himself intended to go."  This gospel is found in Luke 10:1-11, 16-20.


If you were one of the 70, what do you think the hardest part of this mission would be?

No emergency back up, no change of clothes, no food, depending entirely on strangers for food and lodging, not being able to choose your traveling partner, not being able to converse with people on the road, eating whatever is set before you.

Jesus was sending these 70 people on a mission. He knew it would not be easy. He knew it would be difficult for those whom he sent. But why do you think he had to make it more difficult by imposing so many rules?!

Well let’s answer this question by first asking another question: When have you had to rely on the hospitality of strangers? What was that like? Did you get to know them quickly?

Today we are a society of strangers. In our country we provide our own food, whether by making it at home or going to a restaurant and purchasing it, and as a result we don’t get to know others. The majority of our meals are eaten with the same people, family, friends and co-workers. Hardly ever do we eat with strangers. But over a meal, in the process of breaking bread together, we are no longer strangers.

If these 70 brought their own food with them there would be less opportunity for conversation, there would be less time to tell others about the kingdom of God.

There is something communal about eating. Very few people want to eat alone. At restaurants when someone is eating alone, often they have a computer, a book or a magazine to keep them occupied. At home the tv is on, or you eat hurriedly over the sink or just munch on snacks while doing other things. Often we gather with people over food and drink, whether it is meeting a friend for a cup of coffee or having a grand fest to celebrate a special occasion. Meals mark birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, new relationships (how many of you went out to dinner on a first date), holidays, new jobs, promotions, retirements, graduations, new homes and the list goes on.

My campus pastor once told me that after years of working with college students, he learned that new students did not feel at home until they had somebody to eat with. How true is that! If you ever moved to a new school you know that the first day can be scary, not because of new classes and teachers but because of the question: who am I going to eat lunch with?

There is something spiritual that happens over a meal, we become who we truly are, humans in need of subsistence. We all become equals. Yes there may be the head of the table or the special guest, but we all eat together. We become a community.

This idea about community forming over a meal is why Jesus did not want the 70 to provide for themselves. And this idea about community is why we are still being provided for. In a few minutes, when we gather at this table, we will come as we are, without extra baggage. We will come and share a meal together and become a community. We each come without food or drink, they are provided. We come with hand open as a beggar, asking that they will be filled. We come as individuals and become a community.

We are those 70, who were sent out with nothing and came back rejoicing.

Through following Jesus, something was added to the lives of those 70, community. Jesus sends them to every town and place where he himself intended to travel in order to spread this community. Those rules that Jesus imposed were about community. Stay with those who wish to build a relationship and allow that relationship to develop, leave those who do not wish to add to that community.

It is this community that the 70 rejoice over and it is the community in heaven, their names being written in heaven, is why Jesus rejoices.

And Jesus rejoices with us. Jesus rejoices when we build community, when we become no longer strangers but members of the commune of all saints. Jesus rejoices as we break bread together and commune with one another. Jesus rejoices when we journey to his table together. So let us come to the table and celebrate for we have all be called on this mission.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Road Trip!

So I haven't died, or disappeared, or abandoned my blog. We were on vacation. Two weeks ago (June 20) Bob and I packed the car that afternoon and went north. We got off of 95 somewhere around Mystic Village and then drove through Rhode Island, Eastern Mass, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Western Mass, returning late afternoon on Monday the 28. But instead of rambling on about how great the vacation was and what all we did, I thought I would present our vacation in 50 words or less (starting now):

Crazy fog in Rhode Island

Big Houses

Plymouth Plantation and Rock

Pulpit tour on the steps of history

while Making Way for Ducklings

Ocean views

And Mountain vistas,

Saw some boats

and covered bridges.

Camping and relaxing.

Good food and drink in Vermont

All thanks to the travel information centers.

(hah exactly 50 words!)