Monday, January 31, 2011

MMC: Light of the World

Good Morning Bethlehem

I hope you all are having a wonderful day and are able to get done any errands or other duties done before whatever weather mess we are going to get tomorrow and Wednesday.   

A few quick announcements: 
  • The mission trip meeting is this Thursday, February 3 at 7:30 pm at St. Michael's New Canaan, (5 Oenoke Ridge).  All ages and abilities are invited.
  • Saturday at 6pm bring your favorite game and a dish to share as we gather for Game Night before the Big Game.  
  • Souper Bowl of Caring is this Sunday, please bring any non-perishable food items for Redding Social Services or a monetary donation for the Connecticut Food Bank.  
  • This Sunday is also the baptism of Adele Kristina, daughter of Monika and Tyler, granddaughter of Sune and Ringa.  Let us welcome her into her new life in Christ!
  • Congratulations to our newest council members elected at yesterday's Annual Meeting: Paul, Ryan, Cheryl and Suzie.  Thank you for your willingness to serve!
Book of Faith Puzzler:
Last week's question was: In the story of the wedding at Cana in John, Jesus turned water into wine.  What was the water originally suppose to be used for A) Drinking water B) Sprinkling the bridal couple C) Purification rites D) Watering the garden. The wedding at Cana can be found in John 2:1-12.  Verse 6 states: “Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.” So the answer is C…and that was a LOT of wine!

This week's question is: Today’s Gospel reading is Matthew’s version of the beatitudes.  What other Gospel contains the beatitudes?  A) Mark B) Luke C) John D) Mark and Luke E) none.  Email me with your answer to be entered into this week's drawing (and with the predicted storm this week, I get the feeling that I will be making some bread). 

Yesterday's sermon:
If you would like to read it, it can be found here.  In the sermon, I talked about all God requires of us is to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.  What is one way that you have done justice lately?  Loved kindness? and walked humbly with God?  How do you feel blessed by God when you do what God requires of you?  Is there anything in the sermon that really spoke to you?  Or was there any part that you did not understand?

This Sunday's text:
The first lesson is Isaiah 58:1-12.  Isaiah warns the people that they are fasting for the wrong reasons.  Instead of sharing their food with the poor and spending time in prayer with God, they were arguing among themselves and boasting about their fasts.  Isaiah says that genuine fasting results with caring for the hungry, the homeless,and the naked. When have you given something up in order to care for those in need?  As we prepare for Lent, are you someone who give something up every year?  This year could you give it up and give what you would normally use to those who have nothing?  

The second lesson is 1 Corinthians 2:1-16.  Paul states he came to Corinth and preached Christ's message simply (if you have ever read 1 & 2 Corinthians you might beg to disagree that Paul preaches simply.)  But even with the simple message God's wisdom was reveled to them.  What are some theological concepts that are just easier to grasp in simple terms?  That the more you think about them the harder they are to understand?  The Trinity?  Grace? Salvation? Paul also talks about spiritual gifts. What are your spiritual gifts?  Do they make more sense in a life of faith than if you were an unbeliever? 

The gospel is Matthew 5:13-20.  Verse 16 is read at baptisms when the newly baptized receives a candle "Let you light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."  Do you still have your baptismal candle?  Do you light it?  How do you let your light shine before others?  Does your good works glorify you or God?  What does it mean to be the salt of the earth?  And can salt loose it's saltiness?

Have a blessed week!

What Is Required of You?

Yesterday was both Bethlehem's annual meeting, and the reception of new members.  9 new members to be exact!  So when I looked at the text for the day, I knew I was called to preach on Micah 6:1-8, specifically verse 8 "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?"  

But yet the Gospel reading was Matthew 5:1-12, the beatitudes, which are so loved by many.  I couldn't completely skip them.  But the danger of the beatitudes is an idea that if we make ourselves ____ then God will bless us.  Well any good Lutheran preacher will tell you that "if, then" statements do not belong in a sermon.  (I also thought Blessed are They was the hymn of the day so I knew I had to tie it in somehow....turns out that song as the canticle and We Are Called was the hymn of the day which fit my sermon much more)  So I added the beatitudes towards the end as a comparison to Micah.  


Today is a great day for Bethlehem. It is our annual meeting, a day when we celebrate all that the congregation has accomplished over the last year and look forward to what we hope to accomplish in 2011. And we welcome 9 new members into congregation, Paul, Barbara, Farouk, Anna Dylan, Suzie, Tim, Dan and Ryan.

But what does it mean to be members of a congregation? What do you think the requirements are?

The official requirements are to commune and give a contribution of record at least once a year. That’s it. Bethlehem does not require you to worship every week or even once a month. You are not required to give a certain percentage of your income or to serve on at least one committee. You just need to show up often enough so that we know that you still exist. The church does not require much of you.

And what does God require of you? What do you think God wants you to do in order to deserve salvation?

In our first reading today, Micah tells the Israelites what God required of the Israelites, which is the same thing God requires of us today. The Lord requires that we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. Isn’t that such grace to hear? Isn’t that much less than the list we might conjure up in our mind of what we are suppose to do? Isn’t that even less than the 10 Commandments? Thou shall and thou shall not. God does not require much of you.

But what does it mean to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God?

In a few minutes our new members will profess their faith in the presence of the assembly. They will be asked
“Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
to live among God’s faithful people,
to hear the word of God and share the Lord’s supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?”
These are similar words to what a person or their parents are asked when they are baptized. And are not all these things ways that we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God?

When we live among God’s faithful people, when we show up at worship are you not both loving kindness and walking humbly with God?

When you hear the Word of God, when you read or listen to the scripture are you not at times doing justice, loving kindness, humbled and walking with God?

When you share in the Lord’s Supper are you not humbled?

When you proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick are you not doing justice? Are you not loving kindness? Have you ever gone to serve another and realized how much they have served you? Is that not humbling?

When we strive for justice and peace throughout the earth by caring for those in need we are doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.

And when we do these things, we become part of the community. Part of the community of saints both in the greater church around the world and in the community of saints that are this congregation. And when you are part of a community you want to do more with the community and often make the community larger, to invite more people in so they can experience what you have experienced.

When you start to do justice, to love kindness and walk humbly with our God, it become contagious. You want to do more, you want to find new ways to serve and worship the Lord. Often when people go on mission trips they come back home and not only do they want to go on a mission trip again, but they invite friends, they plan even more ways they can serve.

When you come to worship and you enjoy it, when you feel filled by the experience, you want to come back and have that experience again, you want to grow in faith, in love of God. And so you become someone who worships more than once a year.

God does not require much of us. We put many more expectations on ourselves than God puts upon us. Because God is a God of grace, a God of love. We often think of a spiteful God of vengeance, “sinners in the hand of an angry God,” of a God who is waiting to smite us for doing the wrong things. And I think that puts people off of church, of becoming part of a worshiping community, all the requirements. The idea that as a Christian you can’t drink, smoke, swear, that because you are a Christian you can’t have fun. But those are human stipulations.

God’s requirements, God’s stipulations are simple. So simple that we follow them whenever we worship, pray, read scripture, sing a hymn or care for others. The Lord requires that we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. And even when we are not able to do those things, God still loves us, God still cares for us. God is still acting justly towards us, loving us and walking beside us.

And this is why we are blessed, not because we are poor, or mourn, or are meek, or hunger and thirst or are merciful, or are pure in hear, or are peacemakers or are persecuted and reviled. We are blessed because God requires so little of us. We are blessed because God loves us. We are blessed because even when we walk away, God is still walking besides us.

Even when we do not do all that we think we should, God is still with us blessing us. We do not need to make ourselves poor, or mourn, or meek, or hungry and thirsty or merciful or pure in heart or peacemakers or persecuted and reviled in ordered to receive God’s blessing. We have already received that blessing for being who we are. And in receiving God’s blessing we already do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.

Monday, January 24, 2011

MMC: Beatitudes

Good Morning

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.  

A few announcements before looking at the text for this coming week
  • I'm leaving for a continuing education conference shortly and will be in Jersey until Thursday.  If you have a pastoral emergency, I will be available on my cell phone or you can call Pastor Rip 
  • This coming Sunday we will be receiving Paul D. and the Rooney Family as new members during worship and after worship is the annual meeting. 
  • February 5 is Game Night Before the Big Game.  Starting at 6pm bring your favorite game and a dish to share and join the people of Bethlehem for a night of laughter and fun.
  • February 6th during worship we will be collecting non-perishable food items for Redding Social Services and a monetary collection for Connecticut Food Bank as we participate in Souper Bowl of Caring. 
Last week's Book of Faith puzzler was: Last week’s  question was: How many tablets were the Ten Commandments written on? A) 1, B) 2, C)4 D) 10, E) Bible does not say  Exodus 32:15 says “Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain, carrying two tablets of the covenant in his hands…”  So the answer is B) 2

This week's question is In the story of the wedding at Cana in John, Jesus turned water into wine.  What was the water originally suppose to be used for A) Drinking water B) Sprinkling the bridal couple C) Purification rites D) Watering the garden.  If you think you know the answer, send me an email by noon on Wednesday. 

Now onto the text:

The first reading is Micah 6:1-8.  The reading ends with the verse "Hew has told, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?"  How does God ask you to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly?  What are some ways that you can do these things?

The second reading is 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.  Paul argues that the greatest things in humanity are still less than the least things of God.  And that God has used some of the least people in the world to some of the greatest things.  How has God made you great?  How is following Christ foolish by earthly standards? 

The gospel is Matthew 5:1-12, the beatitudes.  Which group that Jesus blesses categorizes you?  Do you fit into any of the groups?  Do the reasons how some are blessed match with the hardships they face on earth?  Do you feel blessed by God?  If so, How?

As always I love hearing any of your thoughts on these questions or others thoughts and questions you have because of these texts. 

Hope you all have a great week and stay safe in all the in-climate weather.  

Sunday, January 23, 2011


One of the things that I love about Bethlehem is just how low key it is.  Every week during worship it seems like something happens that goes slightly off, and yet we keep going and no one seems to care.  And occasionally we have Sundays like this past one were all sorts of things go odd.

It all started with the prelude, when the organ, yet again mysteriously decided to cut out.  This has been a common problem over the last few years and though the organ repair guy has been out multiple times he can never seem to find the cause.  Lyudmila just paused, looked at the organ frustrated and started right back up again.

The second thing was during announcement.  Mark the worship assistant was asking for names for the prayers of  concerns.  Bob, my husband, said my name should be one the list because I'm headed to Baby Pastor School this week and the food is terrible.  After a little give and take, Mark then responded "Are there any real names for the prayer list?"   This of course got a few gasps, snickers and a look of shock and hurt from me as apparently my name is not a real name.

There was also the cousin of the child being baptized who screamed pretty much through the entire sermon and hymn of the day and baptism, and though her father took her downstairs the shrieks could still be heard throughout the church.  Oh well, she was just jealous her cousin was getting all the attention, her baptism is in two weeks then she will be the center of attention.

There was also the moment at the end of the service when Mark thought we were only are the 2nd stanza of the hymn instead of the 3rd and final stanza and was waiting for us to finish before he said "Go in peace, serve the Lord."  And when he made a brief comment about this, Lyudmila thought her counting of verses was off and so she played the 3rd verse for a second time.

While these were the much more obvious bloopers of the day, they were not my favorite, nor the most memorable, at least to me.  It was during the gospel as I was saying the verse "The people who have sat in darkness have seen a great light and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned."  The second part of this verse I kept stumbling on as I was memorizing it.  And I had a bit of dry mouth.  And I could make up a bunch of other excuses. But what came out of my mouth, what was heard by quite a few people in the congregation and what I'm positive that I said was "for those who SHAT in the region and shadow of death light has dawned."

Yes I said shat during worship.

Yes I said shat during the gospel.

And for those few of you who do not know what shat means I will defer you to Bob's definition:
 Shat: Past tense of "to shit." Used in such phrases as: "I shat som'in' nasty!" and "You're dog just shat on my lawn!" Note possible confusion with 'sat,' past tense of 'to sit.'
 At least it was the I-am-not-swearing-version-of-a-swear-word.

At least I didn't draw attention to it by then correcting myself.

At least the giggles were kinda subdue.

At least I'm at Bethlehem where I know the congregation will just laugh about it and move on.

Plain Ordinary People

Today was a fun full day in worship in very typical Bethlehem style.  We had a baptism of a grandson of some members, a temple talk on stewardship that was very eloquently given by a council member and a few Bethlehem mishaps.

The baptism, as always was lovely.  We all gathered around the font for the baptism, allowing kids to gather closest so they could see.  After the baptism, we sang the first verse of "Children of the Heavenly Father" in both Swedish and English, as the child's grandparents are Swedish.  I'm still in awe every time I am able to baptize someone.  To pour water on their head and baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit gives me goosebumps every time.

My sermon was on Matthew 4:12-23, the story of Jesus calling Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John and telling them that they will fish for people.  I was struck by how Jesus came to these men when they were so ordinary and while we are so ordinary Jesus also comes to us.


Close your eyes for a second and think of somewhere you will go this coming week that is a public place.  Maybe you are at work or at school.  Maybe you are at the mall or at the grocery store, maybe the restaurant that you went to dinner to the other night.  You are doing just ordinary things on an ordinary day.  And you are your ordinary self.  It is pretty easy to picture isn’t it? 

And this is what it was like for Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John the day Jesus came to them.  They were going about their business working, fishing and mending nets.  And yet Jesus comes to them.  There was nothing extraordinary about these people.  They weren’t special.  They didn’t have advanced degrees or special training in discipleship.  They were not big shots in the government.  They had working class jobs living week to week on what they caught and sold.  We aren’t even sure if Simon Peter and Andrew were wealthy enough to afford a boat. They blended into the towns people of Capernaum.  They had family and friends like everyone else.  They drank and ate normal food.  They weren’t special. 

They were plain, ordinary people.  And yet Jesus comes to them.

They were plain, ordinary people going about their plain, ordinary lives.  And yet Jesus comes to them.

And when Jesus came to them, when they answered the call to follow Jesus and become his disciples, they became extraordinary.  They became people written about in the pages of history.  They became people who could heal the sick in Jesus’ name.  There were people who comforted the poor, the persecuted and the oppressed.  They were people that lead communities that were changing the world. 

And we too are plain, ordinary people.  We aren’t that special.  We have pretty plain ordinary jobs.  We have a variety of degrees represented here among us and a variety of job.  Yet, at least as far as I know, none of us mingle with presidents and other world leaders, nor will we be written about in the pages of history.  We have plain, ordinary lives.  Our income levels vary but none of us go without what we need and I don’t think anyone here make it to the list of riches Americans.  We blend into the communities in which we live.  We go to the grocery store and no one stops us for our autographs.  We eat at restaurants and the paparazzi is not keeping track of our every bite.  We have family and friends like everyone else.  We eat and drink normal food.  We aren’t special. 

We are plain, ordinary people.  And yet Jesus comes to us.

We are plain, ordinary people, going about our plain ordinary lives.  And yet Jesus comes to us. 

And when Jesus comes to us, we become extraordinary. 

Jesus comes to us through ordinary things.  Jesus comes to us in bread and wine, ordinary bread made of flour and probably closer to sub-ordinary wine of Manischewitz.  Through God’s unimaginable grace, these ordinary things become the extraordinary, the body and blood of Jesus, gifts that are given to each of us. 

In a few minutes Leo will be baptized with water.  Plain ordinary water that came out of the kitchenette faucet earlier today.  But yet through the Holy Spirit, in ways which neither I nor no one else can really accurately explain, that water become extraordinary.  Through the waters of baptism, Leo’s sins, both the ones he has already committed and the many he has yet to commit will be forgiven and he will become a child of God, something that ordinary water is not capable of doing.  Through our baptisms, through God’s unimaginable grace, our sins have been forgiven and we have been made children of God.   

Jesus comes to us through these ordinary things and makes us extraordinary. 

Through the waters of baptism we become the children of God.  Through the bread and wine of communion we are reminded that Christ died for us.  We are so extraordinary that God claims us as God’s children.   We are so extraordinary that Christ died for us.

So close your eyes again and imagine the same place you pictured at the beginning of this sermon.  You are just and ordinary person, going about your ordinary life.  Now imagine that you are extraordinary.  Imagine that God has claimed you as a daughter or son.  Imagine that your sins are washed clean. Imagine that you are so extraordinary, so special, that Christ died for you.  Imagine that God called you to comfort the poor, the persecuted and the oppressed.  Imagine that Jesus called you to lead communities that were changing the world.  Jesus has called you!  Jesus has made you extraordinary. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Come and See

Yesterday's sermon was based on the gospel John 1:29-42.  As my norm lately, the written version was expanded upon during my actual preaching.  I wrote the sermon before I started to memorize the gospel and in the memorizing process I realized just what a stupid question Andrew and the other follower had for Jesus "Rabbi, where are you staying?" Not "Rabbi, is it true what John says about you?" Not "Rabbi, are you really the lamb of God?"  But yet for any of the questions they could have asked there, Jesus' answer of "Come and See" was still appropriate.  

This was also one of those great gospels that so lend itself to biblical storytelling, pauses for effect and turning different directions to indicate various characters or the narrator, using volume and tone as John testified about Jesus or as the disciples asked such a dumb question.  I really enjoyed playing with the text as I practiced telling the story.  

And here is my sermon based on Jesus' simple invitation to come and see. 

It is a little scary isn’t it? Inviting a friend to church. What if they decline? What if they think I’m one of those crazy Christians? What if they think I’m judgmental?

In the media, Christians are often portrayed as wackos. They are the crazy people picketing at the funerals of soldiers and the victims of the recent shooting in Tucson. In the news, Christians are the anti-gay, pro-military people who disagree with science on everything from evolution and creation to global warming. They are the patriotic flag wavers with mottos like “God, Guns and Guts made America great.” In movies Christians are constantly trying to convert others and if they aren’t converting them they are judging others for being adulterous, lusting, greedy sinners.

This idea of a Christian is part of our fear. It is part of the reason why we don’t tell others about our faith. It is part of the reason why we often do not invite people to worship with us, or tell others that we are praying for them, even if we really are. But it is not the only reason we are afraid to talk to others about our faith.

It is scary just to talk about our faith in public. If I mention anything religious will it start a debate? If I tell a non-believing friend that I’m praying for her mom who has cancer, will she just roll her eyes at me? Will I insult my Jewish friend if I mention something about Jesus? What if the person response by asking me a question that I do not know the answer to?

Faith is a controversial topic. It is right up there tied with politics as the two topics of conversation you avoid when having polite conversation with friends. But even politics is an easier topic to talk about as long as you know your audience.

And this fear is not only for you all sitting in the pews. Last week after worship I went to a friend’s baby shower, and as I entered the door I realized I had yet to take out my clerical tab. Later when my friend’s mother-in-law turned to me and asked where I serve as pastor, I was a little hesitant to answer. In fact I’m always hesitant to answer this question to people that I don’t know. I worry that it will start a debate in one of two ways: that either the person is an atheist and believes that I’m wasting my time, or the person is one of those Christian crazies I was talking about earlier and think that I’m violating the bible by being a female pastor.

What are your fears when if comes to talking to someone else about your faith?

It doesn’t come easy, it doesn’t come naturally to talk about our faith. There are fears of being judged, there are fears of beginning an argument, there are fears about not being able to say the right words, there are fears of offending others.

But yet it is also so easy to invite others here to this place, to this house of worship. Jesus invites Andrew and another of John’s followers to “come and see.”

Three simple words that changed the world: Come and See.

Andrew went and saw Jesus and then Andrew so changed by God’s grace, went and told his brother Simon Peter. Simon Peter went and saw Jesus and was so changed by God’s grace that he became the rock on which Christ’s church was built.

At some point someone invited you to come and see Jesus. They invited you to the font for baptism, to the table for communion, to pray for all the people of this world and to listen to the scriptures. That person, whether a friend or family member, was acting as Jesus in this world.

For Jesus invites us with those simple three words “come and see.” Jesus invites us to the font to be baptized that we “come and see” God’s grace poured out on us. Jesus invites us to the table, that we “come and see” the goodness of the Lord. Jesus invites us to pray for the whole world and “come and see” what God will do in this world. Jesus invites us to hear the scripture and “come and see” how the Word of God changes you.

Three simple words that changed our world: Come and See

And we are commanded by Jesus to continue to ask people to come and see. Come and join me for worship and see what my congregation is about. Come and see how this little congregation is part of my community, my family. Come and see why I go here week after week.

Is that a little less frightening that actually talking about our faith?

Not everyone will respond to the invitation. Not everyone will jump at the chance to come and see. But keep inviting, did you come the first time someone invited you to dinner? Did you always say yes the first time someone ask you on a date? Do you always say yes the first time someone asks you to join them for an exercise class, coffee, to watch the game?

MMC: Calling the Disciples

Good Morning and Happy Martin Luther King Junior Day, may we all give thanks for the his life and all who worked for civil rights which has allowed us to become a more multicultural society and church.

A few announcements before looking at the text for this week. 
  • Due to the snowstorm last Wednesday, Senior Lunch is meeting this Wednesday at noon at Rancho Allegro
  • If you are interested in the intergenerational mission trip to Virgina this summer, an informational meeting will be on Thursday, January 20 at 7:30 at St. Michael's Lutheran Church (5 Oenoke Ridge, New Canaan)
  • If you are not officially a member of Bethlehem and would like to become one, please talk to me. New members will be received on January 30. 
  • The annual meeting is after worship on Sunday January 30th after worship.
The book of faith puzzler for this week is: How many tablets were the Ten Commandments written on? A) 1, B) 2, C)4 D) 10, E) Bible does not say.  Email me your answer by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing. 

Now onto the text.

The first reading is Isaiah 9:1-4.  This includes a well known verse "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined."  What is your physical reaction when walking from a place of darkness into a bright light?  When have you been in a place of mental/spiritual/emotional darkness?  How did you get out of that state or are you still in it?  Was there a person or thing that helped you while you were in such a dark place?

The second reading is 1 Corinthians 1:10-18.  Paul does not beat around the bush at the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians.  He is upset that the people of Corinth are arguing and disagreeing with each other.  He is upset that factions have been created between those who follow his teachings of Christ and those who follow Apollos teachings of Christ.  He states that we are all follow the same Christ, for it was Christ who was crucified for us and it is in Christ's name that we are baptized.  This Sunday Leo McCullough, the grandson of Sune and Ringa Gronlund will be baptized.  He will not be baptized Lutheran but he will be baptized in Christ's name.  But yet we are a Lutheran congregation and follow Lutheran teachings.  How can we honor both what makes us Lutheran while also keeping us from arguing within and among denominations about who is following the correct theology? 

The gospel, Matthew 4:12-23, starts with our first reading from Isaiah and then the story of Jesus calling his first four disciples.  Have you ever made such a big decision as quickly as Peter, Andrew, James and John did?  Have you ever immediately decided to do something and thought about the consequences and reasons later?  Jesus tell the men that he will make them fish for people.  What does that mean in today's world?  What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus today?

I hope these questions get you thinking and contemplating the text for this week.  As always I love to hear any responses you may have to these questions or any additional thoughts and questions you have on these text or faith in general.  

Have a great week!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Christmas Wrap-up

So I know that we are closer to January 25th than December 25th but I wanted to say a few words about how wonderful Christmas Eve was at Bethlehem.

After a few people discussed with me the possibility of having a second, later, Christmas Eve worship, I talked to our Director of Music to make sure it works with her schedule.  We then polled the congregation, as both of us staff members were willing to have a second service but we wanted more than 5 people to be there.  By my estimates about 20 people were planning on attending the later service.

A few people did express concerns to me that with Bethlehem being such a small congregation, it has always been a moral booster to see the sanctuary full on Christmas Eve at 5pm and they were worried that with the later service the sanctuary would not be full.

Well that turned out not to be something to worry about.  We had 89 people at the first service (WOO HOO) and an additional 38 people at the later service!  It was just amazing.

The 5pm service was the production of a service, with myself and a volunteer going through the service multiple times figuring out lighting.  The choir sang beautifully and the music director and a friend did a wonderful (though long) duet on piano and violin.  The worship started in darkness (or at least low lighting so people can still see the words in the hymnal) and with each carol or reading the light grew so that by the time it was read that they angels proclaimed "glory in the highest heavens and on earth peace among those whom he favors" the lights were all on, the tree and candles lit.

The 10pm service was more subdued, which is my preference for a late service on Christmas Eve.  The structure of the service was basically the same as a Sunday morning worship, only using some carols in place of the liturgical music (which was probably a good thing since that crowd had less singers in it).

I know there is much more I can say about these days, and I can say it in many more eloquent ways than I just did but in reality, three weeks later I'm still processing the day.  It was such a blessing to see so many people in worship, it was such a blessing to receive so many hugs from congregation members and meet some of their family members.  And it really was a blessing to walk into my office afterwards and see it littered with cards and gifts.

I was on cloud nine as Bob and I stayed up opening presents and having a celebratory drink.  And even the next day, as I tried to keep myself from falling asleep on a friend's couch (thank God I didn't have to host people on Christmas) I was still elated from Christmas.

And yes the numbers are great, but more so are the things that can be so easily quantified, the joy on people's faces, the quiet and stillness as we sang "Silent Night," the merriment as people gathered and chatted after the 10pm service and drank champagne (yeah we are that kind of congregation).

So much belated, Merry Christmas!

Monday, January 10, 2011

MMC: Telling Others

Good Morning Bethlehem

On this first Monday Morning Church of 2011, I hope your New Years Resolutions are still going strong 10 days later and that you are surviving all the snow we have had and will be getting.  

A few announcements before moving to the text: 
  • Senior lunch is this Wednesday at noon at Rancho Allegro in Georgetown. If you are planning on attending please let myself or Lillian Johnson know so we get a big enough table.  Also in case we cancel due to snow, we know who to call.  
  • IA mission trip is being planned to Virginia in July with Lutherans throughout Fairfield County.  If you are interested in going on the trip or want to find out more information, please come to the next informational meeting at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in New Canaan (5 Oenoke Ridge) Thursday January 20.  The trip is open to people of all ages and experience levels.
  • If you would like to become a member of Bethlehem, please speak to Pastor Becca.  New members will be formally received during worship on Sunday January 30th prior to the annual meeting.  Additional dates can be arranged if need be.
  •  The annual congregational meeting will be after worship on January 30.  Please sign up in the community room to bring some finger foods for lunch.
This week's book of faith puzzler is: Which gospel does not tell the story of Jesus’ baptism? A) Matthew B) Mark C) Luke D) John E) all the gospels tell of Jesus’ baptism. F) none of the gospels tell of Jesus’ baptism.  If you know the answer, email me by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing. 

Now on to this week's texts for the second Sunday after Epiphany 

The first lesson is Isaiah 49:1-7.  In poetic verse, Isaiah writes that as the servant of Israel, he will bring good news of God's victory not just to Israel but throughout the earth.  How do you bring God's good news to your household? Your community?  Our country?  Our world?  Isaiah also says that he was called to be a servant before he was even born. Have you felt called to do your vocation since a child, or is it something that has developed in adulthood?  Are you still discovering your vocation?

The second lesson is 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.  Paul starts his letter to the Corinthians by saying he gives thanks to God for them.  Who do you give thanks to God for?  Is it sometimes easier to give thanks to God for someone than to show your thanksgiving to the person?  

The gospel lesson is John 1:29-42.  John the Baptist preaches about how he baptized Jesus and the Holy Spirit, like a dove, land on Jesus.  As a result of his testimony two of John's followers become Jesus' disciples Andrew and Simon Peter.  When buying a new item, whether it be clothes or electronics, or trying a new thing, like a restaurant or movie, how much does a friend's recommendation count in your decision to purchase something?  Or for larger items, do you scourer the internet looking for product reviews?  How about for the church?  Did you come to Bethlehem because of a friend told you it was a great congregation?  What does your discussions on faith tell others about Jesus, both in in a positive and negative way?

Hope you all have a great week!

I Don't Understand

It's been quiet on here lately.  After Christmas Eve, I was absolutely exhausted then I went on vacation and then I got sick.  So hopefully in the next few days I'll be able to catch up a bit.   So first here is my first written sermon of 2011.  

And as of my trend lately, this was not the sermon that I gave.  In fact it was greatly edited in the delivery that other than a few paragraphs here and there very little is identical.  

The sermon is based on the gospel lesson for yesterday, Matthew 3:13-18, Jesus' baptism which is appropriate as yesterday was "Baptism of our Lord Sunday."  


John doesn’t get it.  He doesn’t understand why Jesus would be coming to him for baptism.  Shouldn’t John be baptized by Jesus instead of the other way around? 

John has been preaching that his baptism is of water and repentance and one who is more powerful than him is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  So why would the more powerful one need a baptism of water and repentance, especially when he is in no need to repent since he is God.  And why wouldn’t the more powerful one not baptize the less powerful one with Holy Spirit and with fire?

I have to agree with John here, I don’t get it either.  I don’t understand why Jesus came to John in order to be baptized.  I don’t understand why Jesus didn’t baptize John.  But then again there are many times that I don’t understand Jesus.  And I’m not alone.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus is questioned about what he is doing.  Why is he teaching and healing on the Sabbath?  Why is he eating with tax collectors and prostitutes?  Why is he touching lepers?  Why is he teaching against the Jewish leaders?  Why? 

And Jesus is still being asked why.  Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people?  Why am I put in the situation that I’m put into?  Why can’t there just be peace on earth?  Why did I get sick?  Why did my loved one die?  Why didn’t I win the powerball? 

But all these why questions, both in scripture and today, are because we are like John, not understanding what Jesus is asking of us and what Jesus is promising to us. 

Jesus asked John to baptize him, to bless him, to commission him at the start of his ministry.  For even John was not able to baptize others by himself.  He was only able to baptize because God was with him.  John’s baptisms of water and repentance came from God. But when you don’t understand this, when you think it is just John who is acting and not God, then it is easy to ask why Jesus would come to John for baptism.  But in coming to John, Jesus’ ministry is being blessed both by human hands and by God’s, as a voice from heaven calls out “this is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 

And in John doing as Jesus asks, in John baptizing Jesus, they would together fulfill all righteousness. 

But what does it mean to fulfill all righteousness.  Well that is a good why question to ask Jesus:  Why is the bible so difficult to understand?  For no one really knows exactly what Matthew meant when he wrote that phrase. 

In other parts of Matthew, Joseph is called righteous when he wants to quietly end his relationship with Mary.  In the beatitudes we are told that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed and will be filled.  And the kingdom of heaven belong to those who are persecuted because of righteousness.  We are told that righteousness is an internal quality and an external practice. 

So maybe fulfilling all righteousness means obeying God both in our actions and in our thoughts. 

But John’s thoughts were not yet there, not yet able to understand Jesus when he did as God commanded, and yet Jesus told him that together they fulfilled all righteousness.

And yet fulfilling all righteousness does not mean meeting all the needs of this world.  Jesus did not heal every sick person. Jesus allowed expensive oil to be poured on him instead of it being sold to help the poor. 

And we are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger.  But we are not called single handily to feed all the hungry in this world, to make sure that every child has clothes on his back and shoes on her feet, and make sure that every person feels welcome.  

Instead in our baptism with Christ, we are called to do what God requires, to do what matters in this world, which is more than meeting needs.  We are called to be faithful to God, to feed those who we are able to feed, clothe those who we are able to clothe, welcome those who come into our midst.  We don’t always know what exactly God is asking us to do, but yet through prayer, study and conversation we are called to discern what righteousness we are called to fulfill in this world.  We don’t always know what exactly God is asking us to do, but once we discern what God wants of us now, God asks us to follow those commands in both our thoughts and actions.  We don’t always know what exactly God is asking us to do, which is why our ministry in this world, both as an individual and a congregation, might change over time.  

In our baptism by Christ with the Holy Spirit and with fire we are called to fulfill all righteousness even if we don’t quite understand what that is.