Monday, February 28, 2011

God's Love, God's Abundance

Yesterday in my sermon, I challenged the congregation to start bringing pictures and stories of where they see God's love and God's Abundance in this world.  These pictures and stories will be collected through Easter as we see through each other eyes and words where we see God active in our lives.

I'm willing to accept this challenge myself.  And as one of my friends mentioned a few weeks ago during a workshop at baby pastor school, he refers to these as "God moments", moments when you feel God's presence.

So here are my God moments from yesterday:

A few weeks ago I asked a newer member about getting together for coffee sometime just to get to know him a bit better.  He came over to the parsonage after worship and the two of us and Bob had a great conversation.  It was wonderful to hear him talk about his faith journey, how it has not always been easy, and about his dad who was so influential in his life.  He also shared a story from this last week when he knew that both God and his dad were still watching over him as he is undergoing a huge career transition.  I see God's love and abundance in people sharing their stories.

In the evening we went to the Lumberyard, our favorite local bar/restaurant.  A couple from the congregation was there, actually just about to leave, but we joined them and ended up talking and laughing for over an hour. They knew the waitress and introduced us who when she brought me the bill, asked for the Bethlehem's address because she would like to come check us out sometime.

My day ended with talking to one of my best friends on her 30th birthday.  When I asked her if she know felt old, she replied something like this:  No, this birthday hasn't been bad for me because it is the first one in the last few years where I felt like I was where I am suppose to be in life.  Even though she is now a 30 year old mother of two, going to school full time to be a nurse and working part-time, which just that description wants me to pull my hair out, she is in a wonderful place in her life and I'm so happy for her.  I know that God is blessing her even in the midst of a crazy schedule (which includes a gym class that is 90% running).

MMC: Transfiguration

Good Morning Bethlehem

I hope you all are enjoying this rainy last day of February as we look forward to the transition into spring.  In the church we are beginning to transition towards Easter as we start looking to Lent. 

  • This coming Sunday, March 6 at 9am will be an intergenerational Sunday School where we will learn about Ash Wednesday and Lent.  We will also be burning the palms from last year's Palm Sunday in order to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday.  
  • Ash Wednesday Worship is at 7:30pm on Wednesday March 9th.  If you are not able to attend that service but would like to receive the ashes, please let me know and we can arrange a time to meet individually at another time that day.
  • There is no Worship Together this Saturday, March 5.
  • The Giving Basket is collecting cleaning supplies throughout March.  All cleaning supplies, both household and personal, will be donated to Redding Social Services.
Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week's question was: In last Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus tells us to “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”  In what Gospel(s) does Jesus tell us to “love your neighbor as yourself’?  In Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31 Jesus says “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  However in Luke 10:27-28, a lawyer says in answering Jesus “you shall love…your neighbor as yourself” and Jesus tells him he is right.  So Jesus tells us to do so in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Congratulations to Nancy B. for winning the puzzler.  

This week's question is: How many years did it take Solomon to build the temple? A) 1, B) 3 C) 7 D)40 E) 70.  
If you know the answer (or think you know the answer), email me by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.  I was recently gifted a starter of Amish Friendship Bread that will be ready for baking on Saturday.  So I get the feeling that this week's winner will get a loaf of that sweet goodness.

Yesterday's Sermon
If you would like to read it, the sermon can be found here.  At the end of the sermon I gave everyone some homework to bring in pictures and stories of where you see God's love and God's abundance.  Start emailing and bring in those pictures and stories.  The bulletin board in the community room has been redone in order to make plenty of room to post those items.  I'm looking forward to seeing and hearing where you see God's love and abundance.  

Also I told a story of when I stopped worry and God then provided.  When have you stopped worrying about something and God then provided what you needed?    

Sunday's Text

This Sunday is the Sunday of the Transfiguration, the time when Jesus went to the mountain with a few disciples and Moses and Elijah appeared to them; this happened shortly before Jesus entered Jerusalem and began his journey towards the cross. 

The first lesson is Exodus 24:12-18.  Moses goes up Mount Sinai to receive the commandments where a cloud covered the mountain and the Lord's appearance is described as like "a devouring fire."  Have you experienced God this way?  How have you experienced God?  Moses then stayed on the mountain for forty days.  As we enter the 40 day journey of Lent, how do you hope to experience God as we journey towards Easter?

The second lesson is 2 Peter 1:16-21.  The author states "we had been eyewitness of [Jesus Christ's] majesty"  and "we ourselves heard [God's] voice come from heaven".  How have you been an eyewitness to Christ's majesty and have heard God's voice?  The author goes on to say that no prophecy ever came by human will but by the Holy Spirit working through people.  How is the Holy Spirit working through you to prophecy?  What does prophecy mean to you?

The gospel is Matthew 17:1-9.  The gospel says Jesus was "transfigured" before the disciples.  What does it mean to be "transfigured" to you?  Have you ever seen anyone change before your eyes?  Peter wanted to stay up on the mountain and make dwellings for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  How is this inward/worried/scarcity focused thinking? A voice from heaven came and told the disciples the same words that were spoken at Jesus baptism in Matthew  3:17"This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased" and the voice ends with the command "listen to him."  How did the disciples listen to him and not listen to him as Jesus traveled to Jerusalem and the cross?  How do you listen and not listen to Jesus in your life?  

This Sunday's Worship
The following people are signed up to help serve this coming week.  
Worship Assistant: Mark H.
Reader: Cheryl M.
Communion Assistant: Tori M.
Usher: Tori M. & Matt M.
Coffee Hour: none
Preparing meals: none

If you are willing to host coffee hour or prepare a meal for those who would appreciate a meal this week, please let me know.  

Have a blessed week!
Pastor Becca

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Do Not Worry, God is Here!

I don't think it is any secret that Bethlehem is not in the best position financially.  Like almost every other congregation, Bethlehem has had some active members who have been laid off in recent years which has effected giving.  Compound this with the fact that Bethlehem is a small congregation, finances are an issue.  So when I was preparing for this sermon, with the gospel text of Matthew 6: 24-34, when Jesus tells his disciples not to worry about what they will eat, what they will drink and what they will wear, I naturally progressed to Jesus telling a modern audience not to worry about finances.  

This is a sermon that I think many of us need to hear on occasion, regardless of our financial status.  And it seems like people enjoyed it today.  So bring in your pictures and stories or email them to me so we can see God's love in this world.


Do not worry!  Do not worry!  How are we not suppose to worry?  In fact I know very few people who have not worried at some point over the last 3 years about their jobs and their home.  In the midst of a recession with the highest unemployment rates during the majority of our lifetimes, we have worried that our job will be next.  As companies instituted wage freezes, furloughs and even pay cuts, we have worried if we would have enough to pay the bills in the short term, or we have worried that the next step our employer will take would be to make job cuts.  We have even seen some of our fellow congregation members directly effected by lay offs.  And Jesus is telling us not to worry.

As we have seen for sale signs go up in front of homes in our neighborhood and stay up for months later and as we have heard news on the television, radio and internet about home foreclosures, we have worried about our own property values.  And when you compound that with the fears over our jobs possibly getting cut, well then our home might be the next to be foreclosed.  And Jesus is telling us not to worry.

And as we have received our IRA and pension statements and seen the amount decrease drastically as the DOW and NASDAQ indexes dropped remarkable over a short period of time just a few years ago, we have worried about our retirement.  Will we be able to retire when we originally planned or are we going to have to work an additional 2…5…10 years in order to recoup enough money in order to survive retirement?  It is no wonder that people are now more afraid that they will outlive their money than they are in dying.  And yet Jesus is telling us not to worry.

Just hearing that we aren’t suppose to worry makes one want to worry even more. 

So what are some of the things you worry about?

We live in a world of scarcity.  There is only so much money, so much time, so much stuff that we can acquire.  And when we live a lifestyle of worry, we become obsessed with the idea of if we have enough and who has more than us.  Do we have enough money for retirement?  Are we making enough money to live a good life?  Do we have enough time to get everything done?

When we live with a mindset of scarcity not only are we worried about having enough, we are also worried about having the best.  And companies are helping us buy into this idea.  Best Buy recently launched a buy back program where they will buy back your electronics when you want to upgrade to the latest and greatest.  This isn’t for if your laptop, tv or phone dies and you need to replace it but when you want to upgrade to the newest technology, because as most people can tell you, with technology, anything over 6 months old is ancient, even if it still works properly.  This is the same idea behind leasing a car, because it is easier to upgrade. 

Yet here is Jesus telling us not to worry, to not worry about what we will wear, what we will eat, and what we will drink.   And I’m sure if he was talking to our modern society, Jesus would include that we should not worry about where we will live, where we will work, what technology we will have and how much time we will have. 

Jesus is telling us not to worry because God does provide.  Most people, if prodded, has a story about when they stopped worrying, how God then provided.  For me, one of those stories is here, this place.  After two failed attempts at being assigned to a synod so that I could start interviewing at churches, I eventually stopped worrying about it.  I realized that I had an okay job, Bob was enjoying grad school and would just wait until the next assignment date.  I wasn’t going to give up but there was nothing I could do about at the moment.  It was shortly after I came to that conclusion, that someone from the synod office called me about starting an interview process here.

See I want to make a disclaimer about what Jesus said.  Our gospel starts by saying that you can’t serve both God and money, and Jesus says not to worry.  But Jesus does not say not to plan.  And aren’t those completely different things?  And the gospel ends by Jesus telling us not to worry about tomorrow for today’s trouble is enough for today.  And yet part of today’s work is to prepare for tomorrow, everyone knows that if you do not work today, you will not eat tomorrow.

There is nothing we can do if our employer decides to lay off our entire department.  But we can be a good employee so that if we do get laid off, we have a good relationship with our past employer in order to have a good reference.  It is pointless to worry about how we did on that test, but if we studied so that we did our best, we at least know we were prepared as well as we could have been.  We may worry about paying for our retirement, but we can set aside money and invest wisely now so that we do have money later and along with that realize that we are doing what we can now, and worrying about it and checking our IRA daily is not going to do much to help us. 

As a congregation, we can worry about what money is left in the bank from the sale of the old parsonage and live in fear that we only have X amount of time left (which by the way that date changes every time I hear it).  But then we are giving into an idea of scarcity, there is only so much time left.  And we begin to become inward focused, worrying only about ourselves and the amount of time we have left.  And there will never be enough time and enough money.  I know of one congregation that has an endowment that will be able to pay for their entire annual budget for 20 years and yet they are still worried that 20 years is not long enough.

Instead Jesus is asking us to live with a different economy.  Not one based on money, but one based on God’s love.  And God’s love is abundant!  Every parent I know who has more than one child agrees that when their second came along, their love for the first child was not divide between the two, but instead they all of a sudden had more love, their love wasn’t just added but multiplied or increased exponential. This is what God’s love and an economy based on God’s love is like.  When we stop worrying and start living in an economy based in love we start realizing how much we are given and are able to do so much more than when we live lives based in scarcity and worry. 

As a congregation, we can instead look at the bottom line and think of how wonderful it is that we know we will be around for at least the next 3 to 5 years and think of all the wonderful things we can do in that time.  With God’s guidance we can do great ministry.  We can reach out to the people of this community, this country and this world to show God’s love to them.  We can plan ahead for that ministry to happen both in the next few years and beyond.  And we can stop worrying about if there will be enough time and instead realize that God will provide it. 

But it all starts with us as individuals.  First we have to realize that God’s abundant love is already at work in this world.  So let’s start by me asking, where do you see God’s abundant love in this world?

Now I have some homework for you.  Throughout Lent I’m going to ask you for pictures and stories of where you see God’s abundant love in this world.  Go out, take pictures, cut them out of the newspaper, print them off the computer, email them to me if you need to.  Write down and tell stories about how you saw God each day and bring those stories in.  And I’m going to put them up, we are going to see through each others words and eyes, where we see God and where we see God’s love.  And through these pictures and stories we will realize that we have more than enough and can stop worrying. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

MMC: God V Money

Good Morning Bethlehem

I hope you are having a wonderful President's Day and for those of you who are not working today, that you are enjoying your long weekend.  And those of you that are working, I hope your workload is light and while we celebrate our countries leaders today, you realize that behing every great leader is many hard workers.  

I'm sure many of you have received an email (or 12) at some point with church bulletin bloopers.  Well today's Pearls Before Swine takes a different take on church bulletins.  
(Disclaimer:  I'm not trying to insult anyone, especially our members with the last name Johnson.  I just thought you would get a good laugh)

Some announcements:
  • The giving basket is collecting cleaning supplies throughout the rest of February and March to be donated to Redding Social Services.  Any household or personal cleaning items are greatly appreciated.
  • This Sunday, February 27, our council members will officially be installed, including our new president Ellen, vice president Victor, treasurer Karin and secretary Cheryl along with our long time financial secretary Lynda. 
  • The following Sunday, March 6, is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent.  During the education hour at 9am there will be an intergenerational Sunday School where we will learn about Lent and play with fire as we burn the palm from last years palm Sunday to make the ashes for this year's Ash Wednesday.  All are invited to learn more about the church year.  
  • Ash Wednesday service is Wednesday March 9 at 7:30pm.  
  • The new pictorial directories are now available in the community room.  We are asking for a minimum $6 donation per copy to help offset the printing cost.  Please let me know if you need one delivered/mailed to your home.  
Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week's question was: What book are the Ten Commandments found in?  The Ten Commandments can be found in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.  Congratulations to Ryan for being this week's winner!

This week's question (slightly reword for clarification from the version found in yesterday's announcement):  In today's gospel reading, Jesus tells us to "love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you." In what Gospel(s) can it be found that we are to "love your neighbor as yourself"?  A) Matthew, B) Mark, C) Luke, D) John, E) Matthew & Luke F) Matthew, Mark & Luke.  Email me by noon on Wednesday with your answer to be entered into this week's drawing.  

Yesterday's Sermon
It can be found here if you would like to read it.  In what ways do you feel pressure to be perfect?  In what ways do you have to trust that God will make you perfect?  How do you live out your God-created identity?

This week's text
The first reading is Isaiah 49:8-16a.  Isaiah is telling Israel and the whole earth to celebrate because God has comforted his people and have compassion on those who suffer.  When have you found comfort and compassion?  How have you given thanks for this, especially afterwards?

The second reading is 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.  Paul tells us that we are servants of Christ and stewards of God.  And that stewards shall be trustworthy.  How trustworthy are you with all that God has given you?  Do you use your God given gifts in ways that God would find trustworthy?  

The gospel reading is Matthew 6:24-34, a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus tells his followers that one cannot serve both God and wealth; which do you serve or in what ways do you serve wealth and in what ways do you serve God?  Jesus also says that life is more than about food and the body is more than clothing; what else is life about?  And the gospel finishes with Jesus saying not to worry about tomorrow because today's trouble is enough; what future worries are hard for you to set aside?  

Hope you all have a great week!
Pastor Becca


Yesterday we had a baptism during worship, this was the baptism we were suppose to have two weeks ago which was post-phoned due to the child being sick.  But yesterday went wonderfully with Adele only giving a brief cry during the blessing.  

The gospel yesterday was Matthew 5:38-48 which includes Jesus telling people to turn the other cheek and to love their enemy.  I think it was because of the baptism that I talked about perfection, as the gospel ends with verse 48 stating "Be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect." Most pastors probably addressed yesterday the ideas of revenge, humility and what exactly Jesus means when he says to turn the other cheek.  And I do love this text because Jesus' meaning is not what it first seems to be.  However with a baptism, especially of a 4 month old, it seemed like perfection was in order.  


You’ve heard it here, we are suppose to be perfect!  No problem right?!  It’s easy to be perfect.  We all had perfect grades because I know we all made it though elementary, high school and possibly college and grad school with a 4.0 and we aced every test we ever took.  And we all have perfect driving records, because none of us have speeding tickets or parking tickets on our driving records much less accidents or other moving violations. 

We all have perfect credit, making sure that each and every bill is paid off in full and on time, never once being a few days late or a few dollars short.  We also all have the perfect body, not a single extra ounce of fat on us.  Really we all could be on the cover of GQ or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editions, but we are just modest. 

We all have the perfect memory, always remembering people’s names correctly, and none of us have ever forgotten someone’s birthday or anniversary, much less a to do something that we have promised we would do.

We all are perfect!  Right?! We all are the perfect spouse, parent, child, student, employee, boss.  Right?! 

Okay maybe we aren’t perfect.  In fact maybe it is impossible to be perfect.  Because even the most perfect person we know still has some flaws.  And no matter how hard we try to be perfect, we occasionally make mistakes.  And for many things perfection is in the eye of the beholder, the perfect body, the perfect personality, the perfect date, even the perfect cup of coffee, all vary based on who is describing it.

So maybe Jesus is not really telling us to be perfect here.  At least not in the “conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal” sense.  The word in the Greek is Telos which also translates to goal, end or purpose.  It means more about become what was intended.

I think the Message version of the bible translates verse 48 a little more accurately “You’re kingdom subjects.  Now live like it.  Live out your God-created identity.  Live generously and graciously towards others, the way God lives towards you.” 

And isn’t that less daunting too?   Instead of “be perfect” we are told to live out our God-created identity.  Isn’t that empowering?  Isn’t that awe-inspiring?  Isn’t that…just a bunch of fluff?  I mean what does it mean? 

It means that we are God’s children.  It means that we belong to Christ.  It means that we are God’s temple.  It means that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. 

God has created us and God has called us to use our very beings to do God’s work in this world.  God has created us to be people who care for one another and God has called us to do something about that through our actions.  God has created us to be people full of emotions and God has called us to set aside some of those emotions like vengeance and instead forgive.  God has created us to have a wide variety of abilities and God has called us to use those abilities to live generously and graciously.  God has created us each to be unique individuals with different sets of spiritual gifts and God calls us to use those gifts to love our enemy, pray for those who persecute us, to be hospitable to strangers, to care for those in need and to be God in this world. 

In a few minutes Adele Kristina will be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and she will be claimed as a child of God.  But before the water is poured out upon Adele, her parents Monika and Tyler will promise to help nurture Adele in her life in Christ, by living among faithful people as an example, they will promise to bring her to worship, to teach her the Lord’s Prayers, the Creed, the Ten Commandments and scripture and to pray for her.  And we all will promise to support Monika and Tyler and they raise Adele and to pray for Adele and her parents.  And we do all this so that Adele may “learn to trust God, proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.”  That is what it means to live out our God-created identity. 

God has claimed us as sons and daughters of God’s promise.  And God calls us to learn about God, proclaim Christ, care for God’s creation and work towards God’s goal for this earth.  And when we do those things, when we fulfill our baptismal promises, we are perfect.  And even when we fall short, we hopefully have learned to trust God to make us perfect even when we are not.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

MMC: More Laws

Good Morning Bethlehem

I hope you are having a fantastic Valentine's Day and that you are able to spend at least part of the day with the ones that you love.

A few quick announcements:
  • With joy yesterday, we welcomed Helosia as a new member of Bethlehem!  Thanks be to God.
  • Seniors lunch is Thursday at noon.  We are meeting at the East Ridge Cafe in Ridgefield.  Let me or Lillian Johnson know that you are coming so we get the appropriate size table. 
  • An informational meeting about the mission trip to Virgina is being held at St. Michael's in New Canaan on Thursday at 7:30pm.  Hope to see you there.
  • This Sunday is the baptism of Adele Kristina, daughter of Monika and Tyler, granddaughter of Sune and Ringa.  
Book of Faith Puzzler:
Last week's question was: In the gospel for that Sunday, Jesus calls us the light of the world.  In what gospel does Jesus say "I am the light of the world"?  The verse, "Again Jesus spoke to them, saying ‘I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’” is found in John 8:12. Congratulations to Karin for winning the puzzler.  

This week's question is:  What book are the Ten Commandments found in? A) Genesis B) Exodus C) Leviticus D) Deuteronomy E) Genesis and Exodus F) Leviticus and Deuteronomy G) Exodus and Deuteronomy.  If you know the answer, send me an email by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.  And as a side note, I already had one person hand me his/her answer and put in a request for what type of bread I should bake if he/she wins.  

Yesterday's Sermon
If you would like to read it, it can be found here.  Sorry, chocolates do not come with the written version. I didn't directly address the issue of divorce in my sermon mainly because to explain the cultural context of divorce, that alone would take the majority of the sermon.  Did it bother you that I did not preach on divorce?  How do you explain such difficult text to people who ask about it in regards to your faith?  For those at worship yesterday, was all the treats a help or a hindrance to you in hearing God's Word?

Sunday's Text
The first lesson is Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18.  This portion of Leviticus (really most of Leviticus) consist of laws that the Israelites were to follow which includes laws about how you are reap your harvest, not stealing, not dealing falsely, not lying, not swear falsely, not defrauding, not revile the deaf or trick the blind, not render unjust judgement, not be partial to the poor, not slander, and not hate in your heart. And yet at the end of all these laws about what not to do, it ends with "you shall love your neighbor as yourself."  What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself?  Which law is harder to follow, the ones clear about what not to do or th the one that is vague about how to love? 

The second lesson is 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23.  Verse 16 states "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?"  You have probably heard someone call their body a temple before, but what does it mean that your body is God's temple?  And what does it especially mean that God's Spirit dwells within you?  

The gospel is Matthew 5:38-48. This is a continuation of yesterday's gospel on murder, adultery, divorce and false promises.  In the first paragraph, Jesus is telling his followers that if someone insults them, they should use the customs of the day so that the insulter is the ones insulted instead.  And in the second paragraph Jesus tells his followers that they should expand the circle of who they love.  How does Jesus teaching help you turn the other cheek and yet also love more people?  

Hope you have a great week and enjoy the heat wave that we are having!
Pastor Becca

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Feel the Love

What a great day in worship today.  We had another new member join the congregation (which makes 10 thus far in 2011).  Heloisa has been attending regularly with Mark, whom she has been dating, since the fall and wanted to surprise him by joining on Valentine's Day weekend.  The two of them also had a fantastic coffee hour spread of Brazilian food.  I was even applauded after the gospel as apparently my biblical storytelling was quite dramatic.  The only downside was the gospel text itself.  

The WONDERFUL (read sarcasm) assigned gospel text for this Sunday is Matthew 5:21-37, which is Jesus' teaching on the sermon on the mount.  In the NRSV, these sections are entitled "Concerning Anger," "Concerning Adultery", "Concerning Divorce" and "Concerning Oaths" if that helps you understand how much pastors hate to preach on this text.  To make it especially cruel, it's Valentine's Day weekend.  

So I decided to deal with the text with a bit of humor and fun as I gave my congregation a nice Valentine's Day present.  Yep so if you weren't here today, you missed getting chocolate during the sermon. 


Happy Valentine’s Day!

Is this some form of sick liturgical joke that the assigned gospel reading for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, which just happens to be Valentine’s Day weekend, is all about murder, adultery, divorce and swearing? 

Aren’t we instead this weekend, as we celebrate Valentine’s Day, which granted is a Hallmark Holiday, suppose to be talking about marriage and love and caring for the other.  And instead we get murder, divorce, adultery, and swearing. 

Can’t you just feel the love?!

Can’t you feel the love in the air!   The law that was once at least easy to tell when you broke it, it was black or white, you know if you murder someone, sleep with someone who is not your spouse, divorce your spouse or swear falsely.  And instead Jesus has taken this law and made it many shades of grey.  Can’t you just feel the love! 

But love isn’t black and white, so why should the law be. 

We are told by companies that to show your love to someone you should get them certain things as Valentine’s Day presents.  And since I love you, I thought I would give you all some Valentine’s Day presents.  According to my trip to CVS this week, you are to give the people you love a card telling them that.  You are also suppose to give them chocolate, specifically in a heart shaped box.  You are to get the ones you love flowers.  And possibly even a balloon. 

See I am showing you my love.  But how would you feel if you found out that I charged you for these gifts, or that I had lunch with the bishop this week and was tell her terrible things about this place?   Wouldn’t these presents just be empty and meaningless?  Or maybe they would then take on a negative meaning and you will never be able to trust another pastor who brings you chocolate.  (Just to make it stop any rumors, yes I did have lunch with the bishop this week but I said wonderful things about Bethlehem

Jesus is trying to make a point about how our actions, thoughts and words are connected by making all these laws that were once black and white now many shades of grey.  When our actions say one thing, but our thoughts and words another; we are not living rightly.  Often our actions speak louder than our words.  But when our actions are automatic, when we just go through the motions, others wonder what our thoughts truly are.

When we can boast that we have never murdered anyone but yet go and ruin someone’s reputation by stabbing them in the back, we words and thoughts are worst than our actions.  When we tell our spouse that we would never cheat on them, but then put ourselves, work, sports, the computer, above them in our list of priorities, we are committing adultery by not giving them the respect that they not only deserve, but that we promised them. 

All these laws that Jesus spoke of, really all the commandments, fall into one of two categories.  How we are to love God and how we are to love others.  And God wants us to live in community; in fact we cannot live outside of community.  We cannot worship God by ourselves because our very relationship with God is a communal one.

We know God because others have shared with us their faith.  We worship God with a community.  We are able to grow in our faith because others support us in our giving, reading, prayer and worship.  And when we love God, we also love God’s creation. 

The law and commandments teach us how to love God and respect and love one another, both with our actions and our thoughts.  Because God wants us to get along, God wants us to have love for another.  And God wants this because God loves us. 

The law and commandments are given to us not because God wants to give us an impossibly long check list to follow in order to be worthy to receive grace.  Instead the law and commandments are given to us to help guide us in how to respect and care for each other. 

So yes the commandments fall into two categories for us to follow “Love God” and “Love others” but really they are all because “God Loves Us.” 

God loves us so much that God does not want us to be hurt by other in both action and words.  God loves us so much that God does not want us to hurt.  And this is why God sent Jesus to die for us, so that we will not hurt, that our hearts will not be broken eternally by the sins that we have caused.  God loves us so much that God does not want us to have to bear the pain that we have caused.  And this is the true love that we should celebrate this Valentine’s Day.  

Monday, February 7, 2011

MMC: Murder, Adultery, Divorce, Oh My!

Good Morning Bethlehem!

I hope that you are recovering well from your Super Bowl parties and that you enjoyed the game.

A few announcements
  • Due to an illness, Adele's baptism has been postponed by two weeks.  We will celebrate Adele becoming a daughter of God on February 20th.  
  • If you forgot, or were not able to bring food for Souper Bowl of Caring yesterday, please let me know.  I will dropping off the food at Redding Social Services on Wednesday.  
  • Our next giving basket drive is for cleaning supplies.  Please bring in any household or personal cleaning supplies throughout February and March.  
  • A new Worship Leader sign up sheet is out.  Next time you are in the Community Room, please take a look and sign up to serve in the following areas: worship assistant, reader, communion assistant, usher, bread baker, coffee hour host, altar set up/clean up, or offering counter.  
Yesterday's Sermon
If you weren't in worship or would like to read it, it can be found here.  How does your light shine before others?  What does it mean to you to be the light of the world?  What is one way you can help your light grow and glow stronger this week?

Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week's question was: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.   The beatitudes are found in Matthew 5:1-12 and Luke 6:20-26.  Though Luke’s version has woes along with blessings. Congratulations to Tori for winning the Puzzler!

This week’s question: In today’s gospel, Jesus calls us the light of the world.  In what gospel does Jesus say “I am the light of the world”?  A) Matthew, B) Mark C) Luke D) John E) all of them  Email me with you answer by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.  

Sunday's Text
The first lesson is Deuteronomy 30:15-20.  Moses tells the Israelites they have a choice between following God's commandments and living and prospering or disobeying God's commandments and perishing.  How are you still faced with that choice today?  How do you prosper when you obey God?  How do you perish when you disobey? 

The second lesson is 1 Corinthians 3:1-9.  Paul uses the analogy of feeding people like babies when they were not yet ready to understand the mysteries of faith.  How has your understanding of faith (or aspects of faith) changed over your life?  What were some advantages of having a child-like faith?  What are some advantages of being fed "solid food" when hearing about God?

The gospel is Matthew 5:21-37.  Jesus tells his hearers to be righteous by the laws of Moses by not murdering, committing adultery, divorcing, or swearing falsely in action or thought.  We all have broken these commandments by our thoughts, if not our actual actions. When you are faced so blatantly with the law, how do you feel?  How does it also feel to know that even though we break these laws, that God still loves us and Jesus still came for us?  

Hope you all have a great (and hopefully shovel-less) week.  
Pastor Becca

You are the Light of the World

Normally I do not edit my sermons between what I print out and what I post here, even if what I preach is vastly different than what I preach on Sunday morning.  However, yesterday we were scheduled to have a baptism but due to Adele, the one being baptized, being sick, the baptism has been postponed by two weeks.  But alas my sermon included a few lines mentioning Adele and her baptism as an example of our baptism. So for once I have opted to edit a sermon before it is posted on here.  I have a feeling though that Adele will be mentioned in my sermon in two weeks.  

This sermon is based on yesterday's gospel text, Matthew 5:13-20, especially verse 16 which is quoted in the baptism rite. "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."   

Enjoy the sermon!

Now what idiot puts a lit candle under a basket? Seriously is there anyone who would do such a thing unless they wanted to start a fire? I don’t think there is such a person, which is exactly why Jesus uses this example.

No one needs to be reminded to put the lamp on a lampstand and not under a basket. It is a no brainer, a no duh situation.

The same is true about a city built on a hill. People have always built tall things or on top of high ground so that it can be seen from miles around. It is the reason for church steeples, not that we have one. It is one of the reason sky scrapers are popular. They can been seen and therefore they must be important. Cities on hills, sky scrapers and church steeples are built so high so people can see them from miles away and find their way to them.

So no one needs to be reminded that a city on a hill cannot be hid. A city built on a hill is not suppose to be hidden, it is meant to be seen. It is a no brainer, a no duh situation.

Jesus does not need to remind us of these things. And yet he does. And not only does he remind us of these things he calls us the light of the world. You are the light of the world. We are the light of the world. In this midst of these short winter days, with only a little over 10 hours of daylight, if the clouds clear away long enough for us to see the sun, isn’t it wonderful to hear that we are light of the world?

And yet we needed to be told this. Jesus needed to remind us not to light a lamp and put it under a basket. Jesus needed to remind us that a city on a hill cannot be hid. Jesus needed to remind us this, because while we are the light of the world, we are still in darkness.

We are amid the darkness of sin and death. We are surrounded by our selfish desires to care for ourselves above those in need. We are surrounded by greed, lust, and envy. We are surrounded by laws of this world and by God’s laws.

We are unrighteous, and therefore not able to enter the kingdom of heaven.

And yet we are the light of the world! Jesus has made us the light of the world. And when the light shines in the darkness, the darkness cannot over come it. One small candle in the midst of a bright sunny day still shines, but it is not until it is surrounded by darkness that one sees just how brightly it is shining.

We are able shine, we are the light of the world, because Jesus has made us the light of the world. Jesus gives us his light. It is a light that lives in each of us, one that was given to us at our baptism. At our baptism, we or one of our parents or sponsors, were given a candle, our baptismal candle and the words from today’s gospel was said “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Our light is not the flame that is on the tip of that candle, because if you are like me, you have no clue where that candle is or if you ever even received one.

Instead our light lives inside us. It is one that can never be extinguished. It is a light that is given to us in baptism not by a pastor or worship assistant but by the Holy Spirit. It is the light of Christ. A light that grows and glows as we grow in faith. Out light grows and glows as we give generously of our time, talents and gifts to God through our word and deed. Our light grows and glows stronger as we read scripture through word and hymn. Our light grows and glows stronger we offer up prayers to God and enter into conversation with Christ Jesus. Our light grows and glows stronger as we worship together with others so that we might be fed and filled. And our light grows and glows stronger as we do good in this world, not so that it points to us, but so we might glorify God.

In baptism we have been given an awesome gift, one that we often cannot see physically, but one that is with us always. Through our baptism we have been made the light of the world. And when light shines in the darkness, darkness cannot overcome it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Salt and Light

This past summer when I was at the baptism of my nephew, the pastor ended the announcements at the beginning of worship by asking people where they have seen people serving the Lord in the previous week.  I stole that idea and starting asking Bethlehem a similar question at the end of announcements to help transition us mental into the worship service.  Of late the question has been "where have you seen God in your life this week?"

This coming week's text is Matthew 5:13-20, when Jesus called his hears the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  We have been trained by our society not to boast, but I still ask: How are you the salt of the earth and the light of the world?  Where, when, how has God been using you to help someone else?

The ELCA's tagline of late has been "God's Work, Our Hands."  God works through our hands to help others, so help me by telling me how God is working through you.