Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Oreos and Pizza

Last night my confirmation class meet.  There are two long time friends from one school district and a brother-sister duo from another school district, all four of which are on the quieter shy side, at least when you first get to know them.  A few months ago when we met, as we were getting settled, I left to go to the bathroom and said "Talk amongst yourselves" as I was leaving, but after a few steps I realized they weren't talking so I said "or just sit and stare at each other."  When I returned it looked like no one had moved and my comment was "Glad to know that you went with the later option."

So last night as we were eating pizza and oreos talking about school stuff and then transitioning into talking about the sermon on the mount, stories were flowing.  A talking Bob the Tomato was implemented, there was tons of laughter and even a little bit of learning.
I saw God in this group of pre-teens as they were connecting with each other and Jesus' story. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Yesterday at around 6:30 I let the dogs out to pee before dinner.  Since daylight savings time the sun is now setting a little before 7 so there was still plenty of light out.  The dogs were chasing each other and I brought them to the front lawn and started throwing a stick for Daisy which Koko immediately snatched up so I started to then throw a ball as well.  It was such a blast to be out there in coolish weather, playing fetch with both dogs (well Koko hasn't quiet learned the need to drop the item if she wants me to throw it again.)   On a day full of reading and taxes it was a nice change of pace an a wonderful moment when I felt God's presences.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Catching Up.....Again

Okay yet another Monday, yet another weekend that I didn't post my God moments.  Maybe by the end of Lent I'll get this thing down.

Thursday I saw God at a meeting. Yes a place when most people see their lives slowwwwwlllllyyyyy passing in front of them, I saw God. I'm on the board for Lutheran Campus Ministries at Yale/Luther House.  Luther House is currently in the midst of a transition with the help of interim pastor Jack Saarela.  We are creating a mission statement, finding areas of ministry we want to focus on in the upcoming year or two and getting ready to start a search for another pastor on top of the normal board operations of making sure the finances, staff and building are running smoothly.  And yet with all that to do it is a delight to go to these meetings.  The meetings seem to be not only going well but also beyond expectations.  It is wonderful to go to these meetings and within an hour and a half make leaps and bounds towards opening the next chapter in Luther House's ministry.

Friday I again saw God at Yale (yes I was there a bit this week).  I went to an ecumenical gathering of full communion partners.  The ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson was one of the panel members along with representatives from the UCC, Presbyterian Church (USA), UMC and Episcopalian Church.  It was interesting to hear the history of how full communion partnerships have developed but boy id God show up at vespers.  The sermon was a phenomenal witness to ecumenical partnership and one psalm that was sung by two cantors was wonderful.  It was a jazzy version and just one filled with joy.

Saturday God appeared again to me at church.  I was there for Worship Together, the parent/child focus worship.  Two boys, who are brothers, were acting kind of goofy before we began and were pretending to be dogs.  And when I sat on the step to get started they both nuzzled up on either side of me, again pretending to be dogs and I just had this moment.  I realized that I was part of this family, someone that these two boy feel comfortable enough with to nuzzle up to when hearing a story.

Yesterday I told one of the longest gospel text in the three year lectionary cycle.  And for me I actually made the text longer by adding the 4 verses before the assigned text to give a little background of why Jesus ended up in Samaria.  Because the text was so long, I invited the congregation to remain seated during the gospel. And because Jesus was sitting in the gospel, I sat when I was speaking his words and stood for the woman at the well and the disciples.  There was three points in the gospel that the congregation especially responded. The first was when I sat down because I had a step stool in front of the altar railing and I'm sure many were curious about it.  The second was when Jesus said "The water I give will become like a spring of water in them gushing to eternal life".  At gushing people just responded like "yeah that is what I want to."  The third was when Jesus tells this disciples "I tell you look around and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting" and I gestured to the congregation.  Again there was some nods or other minor murmurings which I read as "oh yeah I'm part of that harvest".  I know those connections would not have been made if I just read the text.  (Granted if I just read the text there would not have been a step stool in front of the altar.)  And in those moments I felt God was with me and I became more relaxed and even more comfortable with biblical storytelling.

MMC: Light and Dark

Good Morning Bethlehem,

I hope you all are enjoying this find Monday morning.

A few quick announcements
  • If you forgot to bring in your spring cleaning items, let me know soon.  I'm planning on bringing the items to Redding Social Services later this week
  • Mark your calendar to be at Bethlehem on Palm Sunday April 17th.  During worship the kids and youth (along with some help from a few adults) we be leading us in worship as we walk through Matthew's passion narrative. Then after worship there will be an Easter Festival with a potluck lunch and a few craft projects lead by our high school students.
  • The Sunday morning bible study group is starting to look at the book of Revelation.  Please join us at 9am look into this mysterious book.

Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week's question was: What were Cain and Abel’s vocations?According to Genesis 4:2 “Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain was a tiller of the ground.”  So Abel was a herder and Cain was a farmer.  Congratulations to Lillian J. for being this week's winner. 

This week's question is: In the gospel on Sunday, we heard about the Samaritan woman who was going to draw water from the well.  What other story in John talks about people drawing water?  A)Jesus’ baptism B) The feeding of the 5,000 C) The wedding at Cana D) Jesus walking on water. If you know the answer email me by noon on Wedndesday.  

Yesterday's Sermon
You can read it here if you missed it.  For my own preaching preparation: how did you enjoy a first person narrative sermon?  Could you relate to the woman at the well more?  Were you confused?  Did you feel commissioned by her to go out and be a sower and reaper for Jesus?
Spiritually:  How are you a sower and reaper for Jesus?  Why do you tell others about Jesus?  Why don't you?
Sunday's worship
Serving in worship on Sunday:
Worship Assistant: Ellen G.
Reader: Ellen G.
Communion Assistant: _____
Ushers: ______
Coffee Hour hosts: Cheryl & Victor M & family
Monthly Bread Baker: Frank C.
If you would like to be an usher or communion assistant on Sunday, please let me know.
This week's texts
The first reading is 1 Samuel 16:1-13.  Samuel is called by God to go anoint a new king, one of Jesse's son.  But David being the youngest was out in the fields and not first brought forward to Samuel.  When has the option you choose not been the obvious first choice?  Did your decision turn out to be a good or bad thing?
The second reading is Ephesians 5:8-14.  We are told that "you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light."  What does it mean for you to live as a child of the light?  Do you live in light or in darkness?

The gospel is another long one John 9:1-41.  Jesus heals a man that is born blind.  But this raises suspicions about Jesus from the Pharisees who interrogate the man born blind.  And the chapter ends with Jesus talking about spiritual blindness.  When has your desire to stick to the rules hindered your ability to receive a blessing?  When have you been blinded to something that others seemed to understand easily? 

Hope you all have a great week and see you on Sunday, if not before. 
Pastor Becca

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Woman at the Well

As I mentioned previously, I was really touched by the story of the woman at the well found in John 4.   There is just something about this unnamed woman that makes me wonder about her background story and what she must have been like after spending two days with Jesus in Sycar.  I personally believe that she probably became one of the female disciples of Jesus, following him and learning from him and leading others to him.  

Because of my connection to her, I decided to write my sermon in a first person narrative.  It seemed to go over okay but I could tell it took a few people a minute or two to realize that it was a first person narrative.  


I am the woman at the well.  And I’ve come here to tell you my story not so that you might feel sorry for me, but so that you may become a sower and reaper like me. 

For years now, people have thought that I am a prostitute and in many ways I wish that was true for my story is one that is much sadder.  If I was a prostitute I would at least be in charge of my sexuality instead of being cast aside from husband to husband.  Instead my fate is much worse.  One that is still whispered about centuries after I have lived.  I am barren.

When I was a young bride, just married to my first husband we had dreams for our future, dreams that were filled with young children running around our feet, boys that would help him in the field and girls that would help me with my daily chores, including fetching water from the well.  But years past and I produced no children for my husband.  And even worse than never conceiving, I had multiple miscarriages, I even had one pregnancy, one that we thought would be our miracle, our blessing from God, who was born blue and not breathing after I labored for almost two days. 

And so my husband divorced me, as I was unable to provide an heir for him.  Fortunately another man was willing to marry me, only for me to realize that this new union would suffer the same fate.

So after 5 husbands and no living children I felt cursed.  I know people in the town talked about me.  They felt sorry for me but yet they stare and gossip, rumors spread about me.  Some women even kept their children from me for fear that I will some how harm them, when really all I longed for is to hold a child in my arms, to hear them laugh, to see a child smile at me. 

For the last few days before I meet that mysterious man at the well, I was filled with tentative hope.  I had learned not to get too excited when I had reasons to believe I might be once again with child.  So I was not too shocked when I woke up that morning to realize that once again I had been cursed.  So that day of all days, I could not handle going to the well in the morning for water.  I knew the other women would gossip about me.  But worse than that would be seeing all of their children, children that are the age my children would have been, had they survived.  And so I waited.  I busied myself with other chores, I took my time. And then at noon, during the heat of day, I set out for the well, knowing that for sure I would be alone.

But I was not alone. Instead on one of the worst days of my miserable life, a day when I was certain I would be homeless by nightfall once the man who has taken me in found out that I was still not with child, I met the savior!  This man that I know has and will change me and has given me a purpose in a way that those 5 husbands of mine would never have been able to, even if I was able to give them children. 

This man Jesus has given me a purpose.  He is the messiah, he is the Christ and he has come to proclaim all things to us.  But while he is the messiah he is still but one man and needs people to go and tell others about him.  And that has become my purpose.  All you have to do is meet him, and hopefully you will know like me that he is the one who was sent by God to be our Savior. 

But I don’t expect you to believe right way.  For some people it takes time.  Jesus told me about man named Nicodemus that he met with just a week before he met me at the well.  A man that was full of questions for him about Jesus being the messiah and how one is able to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Nicodemus’ faith was not quick, but Jesus knew he would be transformed and he too become a reaper and sower for Jesus. 

And once you know who Jesus is, well hopefully you will want to tell everyone.  He is much to exciting to keep to yourself.  Though I’m sure after awhile the excitement wears off or you feel like everyone knows him so why do you have to say anything, or maybe you feel like you are not the ideal preacher, the ideal evangelist, the ideal teller of good news.  But God has made you the way you are.  And God knows you and to know you is to love you and to love you is to know you and therefore you are the ideal preacher, the ideal evangelist, the ideal teller of good news. God has taken me, a barren woman, a woman that was cast aside by 5 men, and has turned me into the first sower and reaper for Jesus.  And God takes you with all your imperfections and makes you a sower and reaper as well. 

So as you go into the field, into the world, to sow and reap know that God is always with you, and that saying “God works in mysterious ways” is true.  When I think about all the things that had to happen in order for me to meet Jesus, in order for me to be transformed it is almost mind boggling.  Jesus was traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee, he did not need to go into Samaria, into the mountains and yet he did.  For some reason Jesus decided to send the disciples into the city while he stayed behind at the well for surely we would not have had this life changing conversation if the disciples were around.  If I was not so heart broken that day, if I was not so ashamed to show up with the other women in the morning, then I would not have been there at noon to meet Jesus.  And yet all these things happened so that I would be transformed.  So maybe the saying should really be “God works in the coincidences.”  When you don’t plan every moment, when you let go of some of the control, God takes over and it is then that you met Jesus. 

So come, give God some of the control in your life.  Come meet Jesus in everything you do and everywhere you go. Come be loved by the messiah who give us all purpose.  Come sow the seeds of faith in others.  Come reap the harvest of those who have heard God’s word and are ready to become workers in God’s field.  Come and see!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Always a Smiling Face

One of my favorite places that I get to go to regularly as a representative of Bethlehem is to Redding Social Services.  Throughout the year the people of Bethlehem donate food, cleaning supplies and money to the food bank and I often am the one who gets to stop by and drop off those items.  So I'm sure they love it when I stop by as well since often I have a donation with me.

Yesterday after senior lunch, I stopped in to RSS to drop off a check that a member of the congregation gave.  (In all honesty I forgot to bring the check the last time I came and then forgot about the check in my computer bag pocket.)  Carol greeted me with a huge hug and I took my usual seat and as always my 30 second errand turned into a 30 minute visit.

I see God in Carol. Carol has worked for RSS for the last few years, starting a few hours a week volunteering at the food pantry then being hired to organize it and now working part time also helping people apply for energy assistance along with other services.  She is a ball of energy and has never met a stranger.  Yesterday I got to hear a little bit more about her story and how she came to work there after being unemployed and finding RSS as a place to go just to get her out of the house while she was looking for another job.

I know her job is not an easy one.  There is always more need than funds.  She also deals with people who don't understand that they don't qualify for assistance because their homes are valued at half a million dollars.   And there are always the stories of people who feel they deserve money without any work.  But Carol is so caring and friendly and I know that she does more than is required of her.  And it is always a joy to see her.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Barren Woman at the Well

On Tuesday I meet with a group of Lutheran pastors from around the county to discuss the texts for the upcoming Sunday.  There are about 8 regulars, people who show up at least once a month and yesterday we had a full table.  As we talked about the gospel for this Sunday (John 4:5-42) we spent a lot of time talk about the woman at the well.  

Traditionally the woman was thought to be a prostitute because she was an out cast coming to the well at noon instead of in the morning or at dusk and she had 5 husbands and was currently living with someone who was not her husband.  However Jesus never tells her to repent or change her ways.  So instead our conversation was around the idea that she was actually barren.  She probably had been divorced multiple times because she was not able to have a child, or even worse, had multiple miscarriages or stillbirths.  And one woman mentioned that she probably went to the well at noon not to avoid gossip but to avoid seeing the other women's children.  She knew that if she went at noon she would not see the children of others that could have been quite painful for her to see on a regular basis.  Children the age her children would be if they survived pregnancy, children that she wished would be hers.  

It was this moment that I heard God, something in me opened.  I have a few friends that have had miscarriages and years later are still dealing with the pain that comes from having their hopes for a child die.  Some friends have gone on to have children.  Some have come to terms with their miscarriage(s) and find joy in their nieces, nephews and friend's children.  A few are still heartbroken.  

But in hearing about this woman at the well and one thought of why she came to the well at noon, I heard God.  I'm not saying I have any more insights to understand what my friends have gone through and what they still feel every day, but I now understand a bit more why this woman at the well so was heartbroken and made whole by Jesus.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Being Church in Georgetown

It has taken me over a week to write this and even now I don't feel I have accurately conveyed the thoughts that are going through my head on being church, emergent churches and locations.  But I will probably never accurately convey these thoughts.  

I've been reading a lot of "emerging church" voices lately, Brian McLarenShane Claiborne, and Rob Bell to name a few.  Along with my readings, I've been participating in formal and informal discussions via facebook, ravelry and with other in the synod about this revolution that is going on in the church as we, as Christians, are trying to figure out what it means to be the Church and a follower of Jesus in this changing world. Overall, I am excited for the future of the Church.

These conversations have also been closer to home.  Bob has had the pleasure of being part of the St. Francis House community in New London this year.  At Bishop's Convocation multiple conversations occurred about starting a living-learning community somewhere in the synod.  And Bob and I have talked for a few years now about wanting to open our home (granted not the small two bedroom we currently live in) to college students and other young adults, especially those who are working with non-profits, as a intentional living community.

Among all these experiences, conversations, books and websites, one thing that keeps coming up, though never directly is location.  Many emergent churches and emergent communities like the idea about being in a city, in an area with a good public transportation system, in an area near the poor, in an area surrounded by the least of God's children.  Often this is for practical reasons, more people are in urban areas and therefore there are more jobs, more public services, and therefore also more places to volunteer and serve God.

The other option is to be in a rural area, set apart from society in order to focus on God, or in an area with a large enough plot of land to farm for the community that is created.  Or to be a place that is a destination, a getaway, a sanctuary for those in need of an oasis from their daily lives as people come and go for personal retreats.

But where does that leave the rest of us?

I have been called to Georgetown Connecticut.  And for those of you who do not know where or what Georgetown CT is (which is about everyone who lives more than 15 miles away), Georgetown is well, Georgetown.  The town/hamlet/village (whatever you want to call it) was built around a factory starting in the 1800's.  Georgetown never became a city, and many would say it is a stretch to call it a town in the population sense of the word and as it is at the border of 4 townships it is not a town in the political sense of the word either.  Being less than 60 miles from Time Square it is not really rural either (even by Connecticut standards, much less midwest standards).  So maybe "Metro North" (which is the name of the rail-line that runs near the house) is the best name for this area.  We are north of the New York Metro area but still close enough that many people do commute in daily, but yet it is not a suburb nor a bedroom community as it began before people ever dreamed of being able to commute to New York on a regular basis and most people do not commute to New York but to more local cities like Norwalk and Danbury.

So why am I going into so much detail to describe Georgetown?  Well because God is here even though it is not the city.  God is here even though it is not a place to get away from it all.  And even in this area, that is wealthy by not just the world's standards but the United States standards, the least of God's children are here too.

And yet I struggle with how to reach and connect them.  I don't believe that people in urban and rural areas are better able to experience God compare to those in the suburbs or towns.  I don't believe that some of the wonderful values that have come up (or in some cases been reborn) in the emergent church movement do not apply to those in suburbia. (you can find a nice list of those values here).  And please trust me when I say that I also do not believe that the emergent church is only focusing on urban or rural areas as many churches that have readily identified with this movement are located in suburbs.

My concern though is that we see the poor and the needy only in the city and we see places to commune with God through nature only rural areas.  That we are saying to people who live in suburbs or in towns that you go to the city to serve God and you go to the country to reconnect with God but in your everyday life you do not need to interact with God.

Yes the percentage of people who live below the poverty line in Georgetown and the surrounding areas is quite low.  But often I find that instead my neighbors can be poor in Spirit.  They are living the American Dream: a few kids, two (or more) cars, a big house with plenty of land and enough money to pay someone else to take care of it.

Yet they are also searching for something.  Their kids are over-scheduled, they work long hours, many feel the need to constantly compete with their neighbors for the latest and greatest.

But I don't sense that with the members of Bethlehem.  There is a sense that God is with them daily and they are able to connect with God in their everyday lives.  I have been blessed to be called to lead this community.

And yet we still struggle with how to serve God.  Per capita this congregation collects more food, cleaning supplies and personal toiletries than any other congregation I know.  Whenever a natural disaster occurs, there is no discussion that a special collection will be taken over the following month to give to Lutheran World Relief or another worthy agency. But doing something hands on?  Well that hasn't happened so much, at least not yet.

That is my hope, that is my struggle, where are we being called to serve God with our hands and feet?  Do we help out at a already existing soup kitchen, homeless shelter, children's program and if so do we go north to Danbury or south to Norwalk?  Or do we find a way to feed the spirit of those around us?  And how do we do that?  And isn't that all really what being church is about?

Where was God?

I'm finding it really hard to think of a God moment from yesterday, a moment when I saw God or knew that God was with me.  The day started with an icky spring snow which seemed much worst since it was proceed by at least three weeks of melt and an absolutely gorgeous weekend.

I then had a dentist appointment (which while not hell on earth for me it is far from my favorite thing to do).  Fortunately no cavities but they are worried about my gums being soft and asked me 4 times if I floss and I actually do floss just about every day.

I then worked from home mainly because I was waiting for UPS to show up.  Then in the evening I drove about 15 miles one way to find out a meeting was canceled but I somehow did not get the email.

When I was talking to Bob last night he asked me how my day was and I said "Oh it pretty much was a waste of time."

So where was God in all this?  Well God has blessed me with a warm house.  I was blessed to not have cavities and even though it might not always seem like a blessing, the privilege to afford dental care.  I am blessed to have a flexible work schedule and environment that allows me to work from just about anywhere and when I want.  I'm blessed to have a car and afford the gas in it, even if occasionally the gas is wasted. And I'm blessed to have so many forms of communication available to me, even if they do not always work or there are still hiccups in communication.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Playing Catch Up Again

Here it is, another Monday and I have not posted where I have seen God this weekend.

On Thursday morning I thought for sure that my God moment would be at the conference I attended that Martin Marty was the speaker.  And yes God was there, and it is always amazing to sing with a room full of pastors. But the moment that really struck me was that evening at Stitch and Bitch.  One of my friends was talking about a new adventure her and her husband will be taking though I don't want to give too much information right now as they are still hammering out the details and it is still in the early stages.  We ended up talking about vocation and how I know that this new chapter in their lives is his calling and passion and how excited I am that he will be able to pursue his vocation.

Friday was a gorgeous spring day, though it was still technically winter (and today, though technically spring, looks much more like winter).  Bob and I took the dogs to a park that we have been meaning to go to since pretty much we moved to Georgetown.  There are a bunch of trails including one that loops around a pond.  Daisy was so excited to go swimming and Koko even ended up completely in the water at one point when she though she was stepping in but the bottom dropped off on her.  Seeing the dogs being able to play and swim was like watching God laugh.

Saturday was Worship Together and a planning meeting with two high school students to figure out the start of a youth group.  During our conversation, I was so amazed at these to youth who decided not just to do a youth group but they wanted their younger siblings and some of the other younger kids in the congregation to participate, so instead a family fun and service group will be born.  The first event?  Those two high school students are going to lead crafts during an Easter Festival after worship on Palm Sunday.  God is very present in those two and I have been so spoiled having my first confirmation class consist of two students that not only still stick around church after being confirmed but also want to plan new things to get others involved.

And yesterday God was most definitely at worship.  For a few months now, ever since I stole the idea from the pastor at the church my nephew was baptized at, I have asked the congregation "Where have you seen God this week?"  I ask this at the end of announcements before the confession or remembrance of baptism and have found it to be a great transition to a more worshipful mindset.  Normally one or two people answer with a quick story about their week and how God was there.  Yesterday one of the mom's told about how in Worship Together the day before there was a moment when I was surrounded by the kids telling them the story and the light shown through the stain glass window and it was just a perfect moment.  Then another woman said how that morning getting readying, she heard God in the birds that were singing outside her window.  Then a man said how he saw "God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, May and all the disciples" when he hit black ice on his way to work and did a 360 on a busy road, but God was with him as no cars were coming the opposite direction.  Then someone talked about how they didn't want to go to bible study this week but ended up going and was so blessed by the congregation.  Then another person told of taking her dog to the beach and seeing God in God's creatures.  Then a woman who is a nurse talked about a patient who is in his 90's and his wife of 70 years showing love to each other and the hospital staff.  And then Bob talked about a guy at the shelter who just got a job that was better than the job he was passed over for the previous week because he did not have a car.   So in case you are keeping count that was seven stories!  SEVEN!  And not only did I hear of God in every one of them, I also saw God working in Bethlehem as people have started to share how God's love and abundance is working through their lives.  Truly God is at work at Bethlehem!

MMC: Heaven and Earth

Good Morning Everyone! (Well it was morning when I started)

As one of my friends put it: "Friday it was winter and it was 70 degrees and sunny.  Today it is spring and it is in the 30's and snowing.  I think I want winter back"  I hope you all are enjoying this snowy first full day of spring.

  • Tonight is an informational meeting about the mission trip to Virgina.  We are scheduled to meet at 7:30pm at St. Michael's in 5 Oenoke Ridge, New Canaan.  
  • Wednesday at noon, the seniors are meeting for lunch at Tonelli's in Bethel.  All are invited to join us.
  • The Worship and Music committee is meeting this coming Sunday, March 27 at 1pm.  We will be discussing Holy Week, Easter, spring and summer worship among other topics.
  • The Sunday morning bible study group is starting a discussion on the book of Revelation.  We will be using information from the Book of Faith series and taking our time to understand this mysterious book.  Please join us on Sundays at 9am. 
  • This Sunday is the last day to bring in cleaning supplies for Redding Social services.  Household and personal care products are greatly appreciated.
  • Bethlehem is collecting fund to send to Lutheran World Relief for Japan.  If you would like to write a check, please make it out to Bethlehem with Japan in the memo line.  Both checks and cash can be given in the coffee hour basket.
Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week's question was: We have started the 40 days of Lent and hear of Jesus being in the wilderness for 40 days of fasting.  What is another event in the bible that takes 40 units of time? The number 40 appears often in the bible including the Israelites spending 40 years in the wilderness, Israel having 40 years of prosperity or decline under various kings or prophets.  Moses was also on Mount Sinai for 40 days, Jonah was in Nieveh for 40 days, it rained for 40 days during the great flood when Noah and his family was saved, and according to Act, Jesus stayed on earth 40 days after his resurrection. Congratulations to Aidan C for winning this week's puzzler with his answer of the Israelites spending 40 years in the wilderness.

This week's question is: What were Cain and Able’s vocations?  A) Hunter/gatherer B)farmer/hearder C) farmer/wine-maker D)hunter/fisher  If you know the answer or are willing to Google it, email me with your answer by noon on Wednesday in order to be entered into this week's drawing.  

Yesterday's Sermon
You can read the sermon here.  What questions do you have for God?  Have you asked those questions to others?  Have you started to find the answer?  When has just asking a question helped you understand God more?

Sunday's Worship
Assisting in worship this week are:
Worship Assistant: Ryan H
Reader: Cheryl M
Communion Assistant: Matt M
Usher: Matt & Tori M
Coffee Hour Host: Me (because someone wrote my name down, but I have no clue who: anyone want to confess to this and make a request about what you are hoping I make?)

Sunday's Text
The first reading for Sunday is Exodus 17:1-7.  The Israelites argued with Moses because there was no water for them to drink in the dessert. When have you quarreled with church leaders (or disagreed with church policy)?  Do you think God heard your complaints? In hindsight do you think your complaints were valid? 

The second reading is Romans 5:1-11.  Verses 3-5 read "we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."  How has suffering lead you to hope?  How has God's love been poured into your heart through suffering, endurance, character and hope?  

The gospel is John 4:5-42.  And I think I need to start memorizing this passage today as it is one of the longest gospel passages in the 3 year lectionary cycle (though the next two Sundays are even longer).  This gospel is about the woman at the well who Jesus tells he has living water, water that will make her never be thirsty again.  And he tells the disciples that he has food that they do not know about.  These statements can make us and the original hears this of magical water and food yet Jesus is talking about heavenly things.  When have you hungered for knowledge and faith? When have you thirst for justice and peace?  

Hope you all have a great week!

Pastor Becca

Asking the Questions

Yesterday's gospel text (John 3:1-17) contains the most famous verse in the bible (John 3:16) yet the context of that verse is not well know.  Nicodemus came to Jesus to ask him questions and find out who this Jesus person was.  And Jesus tells Nicodemus about how one is able to enter the kingdom of heaven and why God sent his son.  It is one of these text that could have 20 different topics for the sermon.  I went with the fact that Nicodemus was able asked Jesus questions about his faith and Jesus answered him.  I don't know why I exactly went with this topic, but I think it is one that was appropriate for Bethlehem, being able to ask the questions that we want to ask.  


Joan Osborne had a hit in the late nineties that you still hear on the radio on occasion “One of Us.”  It begins “If God had a name what would it be, and would you call it to his face?  If you were faced with him in all his glory, what would you ask if you had just one question?”   The song goes on to talk about what would you do if God was one of us, just an ordinary person, someone that you probably wouldn’t look at twice while walking down the street.

But the end of that opening verse has always made me wonder: what would I ask if I could pose just one question to God?  What would you ask?

We all have questions for God.  Some are majestic in nature, questions about the whole of creation.  Or maybe the question is eschatological, “How will all this end?”  Maybe it is personal, “Why did something happen to me?” or “What is God’s plan for our life?”  We all have questions for God?  We all at times have wished that Jesus was here in person so we could get some explanation for the things that don’t make sense to us.  And I think it would be very hard for us to ask God just one question. 

Nicodemus was given this opportunity and boy did he have questions.  But he doesn’t start with a question, he starts with a question shrouded as a statement “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”  Nicodemus’ questions starts with a statement of faith.  When really the subtext is: “You are from God right? So then who are you?”

Nicodemus is not yet certain that Jesus is the messiah but he does believe that Jesus is sent from God. And this leads to one of the most famous conversations in the bible including the most famous verse.  And yet it is a conversation that doesn’t translate well into English. 

We have probably all heard at one time or another the phrase “Born Again” and that phrase comes from this gospel passage, but that is not what Jesus says.  Just like in English, Greek has homonyms – words that are spelled and pronounced the same and yet have completely different meanings.  Left – past tense of leave or the opposite of right.  Stalk – a part of a plant or to follow a person.  And in Greek – ana-oth-en – again, anew or from above. 

And so Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he must be born from above, from the spirit.  And Nicodemus is hearing that he must be born again, hence that wonderful image that makes just about every woman squirm about a full grown man entering his mother’s womb and being born a second time.  And yet even with this confusion, even with Nicodemus continuing to ask questions, Jesus takes the time to answer them. And he answers Nicodemus’ original question about what it means to see the kingdom of God with this wonderful statement about eternal life. 

Even though that one non-questions lead to another question, and another and probably even more questions than are mentioned in this gospel, Jesus takes the time to answer them….at least to an extent. 

Nicodemus wanted information and Jesus wanted transformation.  And slowly Nicodemus was transformed. He wanted to know the details about Jesus before he was willing to put his complete faith in him.  And Nicodemus was slowing transforming, in John’s gospel he is one of the men who take care of Jesus’ body after his death.  Nicodemus’ faith was not sudden.

Jesus could have come right out and said to Nicodemus “I am the Messiah, the Son of God.”  But would that have actually answered Nicodemus’s questions?  Would that have given Nicodemus the information that he wanted?  Probably not.  And would those answers allow Nicodemus to transform in the way Jesus was hoping he would transform?  Probably not. 

We need those conversations at times, time to ask our questions, regardless of how numerous they may be.  And in those conversations we are able to explore our faith, to see God’s Kingdom and even realized that we have been born of the Spirit and therefore we are God’s Kingdom. 

Our faith does not grow from just listening to others, even me, absorbing what the other has to say.  Our faith grows when we have the opportunity to question, to ask, to explore what the other is saying and figure out what it means for us.

Our faith doesn’t grow when we just read scripture, creeds or prayers.  Our grows when we take the time to understand what the author was trying to get across, realize how much debate went into every word that is part of the Apostle, Niece and Athenaisian Creeds, and when we add our own petition and voice to the prayer by lifting up the concerns and celebrations that are on our hearts and minds,

Our faith doesn’t grow when we come here for one hour and change every week or so and think this is the only place God exist in our lives.  Our faith grows when we take the things that we have heard about here and apply them in the rest of our lives.  Our faith grows when we start to see God in all the area’s of our lives and know that God’s love and God’s abundance are with us always. 

Our faith grows when we take time to ask the questions; the questions that we have about faith, worship, the Church universal.  We can ask those questions to our friends, family, peers, a bible study group, or our pastor.  They might not know the answer, especially because some questions are unanswerable, but in just the asking our faith grows.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What is that I hear?

Yesterday was a gorgeous day!  One of the first truly nice days of spring and I had to make a quick run to the library to drop something off.  It was one of those days that you just want to drive with the windows down even if you freeze as a result.  And that is exactly what I did.

When I returned home I got out of the car and was thinking just what a wonderful early spring day God had blessed us with, as I looked at one of the few remaining snowbanks in the parking lot.  And from across the pond came the sound of a mallard.  Not quite as musical as a loon call but close enough that it reminded me of Minnesota.

Have you heard God lately?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Quiet Day

Last night as I was laying in bed before I went to bed I was thinking about where I saw God and God's love in my life that day.  And my first answer was "I didn't really see God today."

What!  How did I not see God yesterday?

Well I lead a really exciting life, let me tell you.  I got up, went to text study, then spent a few hours working at the library with a quick stop first to get some lunch at the local market.  Then I came home and hung out with my dogs and watched tv.  Yes, a highly exciting life.

And while I don't have a a specific moment yesterday when I truly felt God's presence or an experience when I saw God's love in something, I know that God was with me.  In the wonderful thought provoking conversation with my colleagues, I know that God was there.  In the public physicality filled with resources beyond what many people throughout time and the world  could imagine, God was with me.  In the delicious soup that others prepared for my lunch, God was there. Even in the ability for me just to do much of nothing, God was with me.

So yes many days we don't directly feel God's presence, but God is still there.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stiff Muscles

As I mentioned yesterday, Bob and I removed stumps on Sunday which took us a few hours.  And yesterday I ached as a result, fortunately not too badly, just a slightly sore left thigh, shoulders, biceps and the palms of my hands from where I was pushing on the stumps to move it so Bob could get under them better to clip the roots.

But as I sat in my chair in the living room yesterday, reading commentaries on this coming Sunday's text, at one point I felt a calm presence around me and could feel the ache in my shoulders and biceps release.  It is really a hard moment to explain but as I was reading commentaries on God loving the whole world I felt like God was there massaging my tired muscles, releasing the ache from the previous day's work, allowing for me to better understand what I was reading and to better hear what God was telling me through these scholars.

I'm sure to some people I sound crazy, "How could God massage my muscles?" but that is not really it either.  As I said it is hard to describe.  Really it was just a moment that I knew that God was with me and in that could feel my tension, my cares, both physical and mental release.

When have you felt God's presence in your life?

Monday, March 14, 2011

MMC: Faith as a Journey

Good Morning and Happy Pi Day (Yes I was a math major in college)

I hope you all have caught up on your sleep after missing an hour yesterday.

A few quick announcements
  • The giving basket is collecting cleaning supplies throughout the month of March.  Please bring in any home or personal cleaning supplies to be donated to Redding Social Services.
  • The Sunday morning bible study will start taking a look at the book of Revelation.  If you would like to learn more about this often misunderstood book please join us on Sundays at 9am in the community room. 
  • A youth group is starting!  I will be meeting with a few high school students this Saturday at 1pm to discuss plans for the spring and summer.  If you are interested in joining us please let me know.
Book of Faith Puzzler 

Sorry I forgot to include last week's question in the Monday Morning Church email.  But last week's question was: On what mountain did the transfiguration occur? A) Mount Hebron B) Mount Tabor C) Mount Sinai D) The Bible doesn’t say.  The correct answer is D) The Bible doesn’t say.  In all the biblical accounts of the transfiguration it never says what mountain the event occurred on.  Most biblical scholars believe it was either Mount Hebron or Mount Trabor; both are located outside of Jerusalem.  Congratulations to Tori M. for winning this week's book of faith puzzler.

This week's question is: We have started the 40 days of Lent and hear of Jesus being in the wilderness for 40 days of fasting.  What is another event in the bible that takes 40 units of time?  If you know an answer (there are multiple), email me by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.  

Yesterday's sermon
If you would like to read the sermon, it can be found here.  How have people asked you to prove your faith?  How have you tried to prove your faith?  How have you helped others explore their faith?  

How have you seen God's love this week?  Keep emailing/bringing in your stories and pictures to put on the bulletin board throughout Lent

Sunday's Worship

The following people are scheduled to serve this Sunday:
Worship Assistant - Mark H
Reader - ---
Communion Assistant - Cheryl M
Ushers - Bob M-C & --
Coffee Hour host - Ellen G
Food prep & delivery - ----
If you would like to volunteer to be the reader, an usher or prepare or deliver food to our homebound members, please let me know.  

The first reading on Sunday is Genesis 12:1-4a.  Abram (soon to be Abraham) is told by God that he will be blessed and become a great nation.  This is just the start of Abram & Sarai's journey that will take much longer than they every originally thought.  When have you set out on a journey, whether physical or mental, that took much longer than you thought?  How has/did your attitude change over time?  Did you ever want to turn back? Give up?  Take a short cut?

The second reading is Romans 4:1-5, 13-17.  Paul details that Abraham did not receive such a great promise from God through the law but through his faith.  And for all of us, being in a relationship with God does not mean that we will be given a reward but that we be given faith and trust.  When have you thought you deserved a reward that you did not receive?  Did you receive a lesson or something else instead that turned out to be more valuable than the reward?  Is faith a great enough reward for you to follow Christ or do you want something more?

The gospel is John 3:1-17. Nicodeamus, a Pharisee, comes to Jesus by the cover of night to ask Jesus questions.  This gospel includes the most famous verse in the bible, John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."  However the meat of this passage comes earlier as Jesus explains what it means to be born of the Spirit and yet Nicodeamus does not get it.  When have you been like Nicodeamus and not understand scripture or what God is saying to you in your life?  When have you needed things explained simply to you?  

Hope you all have a great week!
Pastor Becca


I'm sore this morning because yesterday Bob and I decided to remove the stumps from one side of the house, get the raise bed ready in the garden and rake out some of the leaves around the bushes.  All total we removed 4 stumps of bushes that we cut down last fall.  And this may seem ironic or harsh, but I saw God in those stumps.  Yes even as I was destroying creation, I saw God in the creation.

It is amazing how deep, how intricate the root system for those bushes were.  So much of creation we do not see, it is hidden, to small or too far away for us to see with the naked eye and yet there is so much detail in even these "unseen" areas of creation.

How have you seen God?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Prove Yourself!

This morning I didn't feel like I lost an hour of sleep, I think because the dogs didn't wake us up an hour before the alarm.  But you could sure tell that people were a little off today in worship.  It seemed like full conversations were going on at the communion rail, chatter throughout various other parts of the service and a few missteps were done by the worship assistant and a few others. Fortunately we are a casual enough community that nothing seemed out of place.

The gospel lesson for today was Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by the devil.  I decided to focus on the idea that Jesus was asked to prove himself but even when people were given proof they denied him and we too are asked to prove ourselves, but regardless of what we say or do, it will not be enough for some people.  

The sermon I preached had an additional ending, however I left my notes on the lectern and I'm too lazy after removing tree stumps this afternoon to go over to the church and get it so I can give you, dear reader, the full ending.  Do not worry though, it was just a summary, nothing amazing or earth shattering.  In fact it is probably a good thing that I do not put that ending on the interwebs for all to read as it has some works righteousness/second use of the law things (because God loves us you should do ____ type stuff).  So maybe you are getting the better ending.


Do you ever feel pressure, or at least get asked to prove your faith?

Maybe it is in the form of those emails which start with a cute story.  They always have about 20 different font colors and the flashing icons and smiley faces, and then the email sucks you in to a story about some little kid learning a valuable lesson or a guy realizing that he is not alone in the world after all, whatever the story it probably was published in one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. And then you get the end and BAM the email ends with something like “If you love Jesus you will send this to everyone in your address book because I love Jesus and decided to send it to you so you will know that Jesus’ love is great and wonderful and it needed to be shared with you.”   And of course there is the part that is not being written but might as well be since it is so strongly implied “If you decide to delete this email without forwarding it to anyone, it means that you must not really love Jesus and therefore you are going to HELL!!!!”  (of course with 600 exclamation marks behind it.)

Or maybe you feel pressure to prove your faith in the form of a status update on facebook.  One that I saw this week read “I believe in Jesus Christ and have accepted Him as my personal Savior. One person on FB has challenged all believers to put this on their wall...In the Bible it says, if you deny Me in front of your peers, I will deny you before my Father at The Gates of Heaven. (Mat 10:33) This is simple...If you love God and you are not afraid to show it, re-post this. Just copy and paste. shame here” 

And you may have even had the experience of a person preaching on the street corner asking you if you are Christian.  And even if your answer is yes, it seems to never be good enough as they want to you prove it. 

We are often asked to prove our faith, both directly and indirectly.  But how do you prove such a thing?  Just saying that you are one is often not a good enough answer for the asker.  Anyone can forward an email or copy and paste a status update.  Wearing a cross necklace is as much a fashion statement as it is a faith statement.  And some of the best atheists that I know can spout scripture easier and the average Christian.  And saying because you go to church you are Christian is not anymore true than saying you are a car because you are standing in a garage.  We cannot prove our faith, at least not to one another. At some point people will just have to believe us that we have faith.

Jesus was asked to prove that he was the Son of God.  Twice the devil says to him “If you are the Son of God.”  The devil was trying to put doubt in Jesus’ head.  Jesus was just baptized and the Holy Spirit landing on him in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven said “This is my son, my beloved with whom I am well pleased.”  And now the devil is trying to have Jesus doubt that he really was the Son of God.  And yet that is something Jesus could not and still cannot prove to many people.  Regardless of how many miracles he preformed, regardless of how many people he healed, regardless of how much love he preached, people still questioned and still do today, if he is the Son of God.   At some point people just have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. 

Jesus did not need to prove his divinity to the devil or any one else.  And yet in this wilderness it is not the devil or others he is most tempted to prove that he is the Son of God to but he is most tempted to prove that he is the Son of God to himself.  The devil was within him, asking him to question, causing him to doubt, leading him to argue with God and scripture. 

And the devil is inside us asking us to question, causing us to doubt, leading us to argue with God and scripture.  We do not need to prove our faith to anyone, nor have anyone prove their faith to us.  God knows what is in our hearts; God knows what is on our minds.  It is God who knows our faith.  We are not here to prove our faith, but we are here to nurture it.  In scripture and song we hear and read God’s word so that our mind may be recharge.  In prayer we give up our concerns and celebrations to God so that we may do God’s work in this world.  At the table we feed and nourish our souls so that we might leave her full, able to spend about week out in the world, before we return next week empty, only to be refilled again.  The church does not exist so that we can prove our faith but so that faith can grow in us and that we in return can go out in the world and help others explore their faith and allow it to grow. 

Those email stories can be wonderful ways to lift the spirit, and can bring a smile to your day, just do me a favor and if you send them to me, delete the part about needing to prove your faith by forwarding it on.  Facebook and other social media have become strong ministry tools as you are able to keep in touch with friends around the world and send prayer request to all to a lot of people at once.  But shaming someone into posting something is not a healthy way of spreading and growing faith.  And maybe some day I’ll be able to come up with adequate response to the street preacher when he asks if I’m Christian (thus far holding up my cross necklace, saying I’m a pastor and just saying yes have not been good enough answers) but in the mean time, I would rather take the time to ask people to tell me their faith story, and listen to where God is working in their lives so that faith has a chance to grow and spread instead of feeling a need to be proven which it never can be.  

Return of the Dead!

I actually have to share two moments I saw God yesterday.

Bob and I are trying to do a "buy local" Lent as we often end up going to the big box stores 10-15 miles away instead of the mom & pop stores that are much closer.  But we don't know a lot of the local stores so yesterday we decided to explore Ridgefield a little more.  We have gone down Main st, but there is an entire shopping area beyond so we walked up and down the street visiting a chocolate shop, a quilt store and a cheese and wine store among others.  One of the workers at the cheese and wine shop was so passionate about her job and the pairing of cheese with either beer or wine.  I saw God in this woman as she was living out her vocation.

And earlier in the day I saw God in a funny conversation with one of the children of the congregation.  During Worship Together, I was explaining that it is now Lent and we are preparing for Easter.  As we put together a puzzle of a cross this was the conversation:
Me: What happened on the cross?
A: Jesus rose from the dead
Me: Not quite, Jesus died on the cross, but he rose from the dead three days later
Kids: cool
Me: Have you heard of anyone coming back to life after being dead three days?
A & D: No
D: but zombies, they come back from the dead!

HAHAHA!  Ahh Zombie Jesus!  Love it!

(picture from a Interesting articles at New World Odour)

BTW I responded something about how Jesus rose from the dead and zombies are really still dead.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

March Showers bring March Signs of Spring

Yesterday Bob and I again had a quiet day, in fact we stayed in our pajamas till 2 (just a reminder that we both have Friday's off).  The forecast called for more rain throughout the day but it done by about 10.  In the afternoon we took the dogs for a walk and I saw God in all the many signs of spring.  Being able to across the pond, the free flowing creeks, the full river, the flowers starting to peek out of the ground.

It was also interesting to see how the landscape has changed, subtle changes but it has, after the flooding we have had this last week.  Down near the train tracks and river, you can see a few limbs were taken down, in a few places the ground has been carved differently.

God is still creating in this world.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Spending time with my Love

Bob was orginially suppose to be gone Monday AM through Friday early evening due to work (he normally works from home Monday and Saturday and has Friday off with me).  But due to spring break for the shelter's work study students and serve storms that were suppose to come through with flash flooding warnings, Bob was home came home around 2 yesterday with a Wendy's Frosty in hand.  And I ended up not going to Stitch and Bitch in case roads flooded and I was not able to get back home.  So we spent the afternoon and evening together, watching movie and enjoying the light rain that thankfully did not dump nearly as much rain as predicted.

I see God's love in being able to spend time with the one I love most on earth.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Too Catholic"

Yesterday's Ash Wednesday service was a great Bethlehem mixture of fun, sorrow, excitement and faith development.  We had the ashes and the invitation into Lent, kids running up the aisle to get the offering, a wonderful jazz piece with drums for the choir anthem and hopefully from me a sermon that encouraged people to get out of their comfort zones.  

In all honesty I'm a little concern with this sermon.  That some people will either think I'm a crazy pastor trying to pull the church in a different direction then they are, or that I was singling them out as who told me things were too catholic.  But really either than phrase or a similar idea has been expressed to me either in person on via email by at least 3 congregation members, a fellow Lutheran pastor in the area, a religious chat board I'm on and some non-religious friends.  

The gospel text for yesterday was Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, Jesus telling his disciples how to give alms, pray and fast.  


I have found preparing for this sermon has been difficult for me.  Over the past few weeks, as I have talked about Lent to various people, both congregation members and non-members alike, I have found that many have balked at the idea of Lent because it is quote “too Catholic.”  This concerns me for many reasons.

It concerns me because once we label something as “too” anything we demonize that group and avoid the practice for fear of being like them.  It concerns me because while I far from agree with the Roman Catholic church on many issues, including their stance on female clergy, when we label something as “too Catholic” we then don’t want to be like them and therefore do not want to join in ecumenical dialog which has helped Lutherans, other protestants and Catholics understand our own individual theology and has helped us all better understand that at the core our faith in Christ is the same.  The label has also concerned me as a lot of members of this community were raised or have previously worshipped in Catholic churches and hold dear some of these traditions and by us calling something “too Catholic” we are, whether intentionally or not, insulting their beliefs, their past and their traditions. 

But, at least in this instance, the reason why the label “too Catholic” has concerned me is because Lent is such a rich time spiritually and when we write it off as “too Catholic” we are not allowing ourselves to take part in an ancient tradition which so many people have found so spiritually enlightening. 

Lent is a time for penitence, for repentance, for humility, for preparation and for anticipation.  We anticipate Christ’s resurrection but first we prepare for his death.  We prepare for Christ’s death by realizing with humility that it is our human sinful nature that caused Christ to die on the cross.  We repent our sins, which has caused that death and we in some cases demonstrate penitence, not because they are required of us in order to receive God’s forgiveness, but out of humility and in knowledge that it is our sins that caused Jesus to die on the cross. 

Historically people showed penitence by giving up certain foods during the Lenten season.  This included everything from a complete fast for certain days throughout Lent, or a partial fast of meat, sweets and butter throughout the entire 40 days.  But the idea of fasting is older than that.  In today’s gospel Jesus does not tell his disciples “If you fast” but “when you fast.”  Fasting was common throughout the ancient world as a way for people to create a spiritual connection or to show their devotion to God.  People fasted for days or weeks before various rituals or on certain holy days and people still fast throughout the world for the same reason, especially on Yom Kippur or Ramadan. 

Christians have also taken Lent to be a time of intensive prayer or scripture reading as people have sent aside a dedicated portion of their day or week to spend time with God.  Again this is not a new tradition as Jesus again said to his disciples “When you pray…” 

And Lent has also been historically a time when people give additional money to charity.  One common idea is to give the money you save on your grocery bill while fasting to world hunger or another charity.  And again this is not a new tradition as Jesus told his disciples “whenever you give alms.”

Jesus expected his disciples to give alms, pray and fast.  And we are expected to do these things today.  But Jesus asks us to do them for the right reason.  We are not supposed to have the trumpet sound, whether from an actual trumpet or the boasting from our own lips, whenever we give alms.  We are not supposed to pray loudly on the street corner so that everyone may know what we are doing, but quietly in a locked room.  We are not suppose to look disfigured when we fast so that everyone knows what we are doing, but look clean and presentable so that our penitence is only known to God.  We do not need to do these things so that others notice us, but because God already notices our actions and our actions are meant for God.

God sees us, God notices us, God gives us attention.  We do not need others to see us, to notice us, to give us attention.  And when we do these things for God, it is not God who changes but us.  We are more open to hearing God’s word, to seeing God in this world, to feeling God’s love in our lives and to sharing God’s abundance with others. 

So this Lent I encourage you to do something, even if it is “too Catholic.”  Give something up that gets in your way of worshiping God, maybe you can go on an electronic fast as you spend too much time watching television, checking Facebook or playing angry birds on your cell phone, to experience God’s creation.  Or you can go on a fast from a kind of behavior that you do not like about yourself, maybe try to give up swearing or complaining about a situation at work and in doing so you will be better open to seeing God’s love.  Or maybe you can take something on.  Pray for a person before you text them, or read at least one chapter of the bible a day and you will find that you are better hearing God’s word.  Or maybe you can each day write a thank you note to one person or give away one of your possessions to someone who would appreciate it, or write down one way you saw God and in doing so God’s abundances will be open to you.

Lenten disciples, spiritual disciplines are not done so that we can more readily receive God’s grace and forgiveness, because God’s forgiveness is already given to us.  They are done because of our love for God and in anticipation of Christ’s death.  They are done because in our struggle, God changes us.  They are done so that we may get out of our comfort zones so that we may be more open and receptive to God in our lives. So this Lent I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and do something that seems “too Catholic” and take on a spiritual discipline for Lent and see how God changes you.  

Ashes, and Excitement

Yesterday I saw God at Bethlehem's Ash Wednesday service.  As I placed ashes on people's foreheads and hands and reminded them that they are dust and to dust they shall return, I was touched by the humanity of the moment.

And God was also present in the kids present.  I forgot to put yesterday's service on the list for people to sign up for worship assistants and our regular fill-ins were not there.  So during the sharing of the peace I asked to young brothers if they would do the offering.  They were so excited and ran up to get the offering plates and later ran up to the altar for communion.

And God was also in the choir anthem.  A seminary friend calls Ash Wednesday a funeral for everyone, well we kinda had a New Orleans funeral with a wonderful jazzy anthem.  It always amazes me what great sounds come out of our small choir as they share God's love through song.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Children's Faces and Flowers

hmm I need to start doing this right away in the morning or I forget like yesterday.  Even though I was on the computer most of the day, it wasn't until I would shut it down for awhile to do something else that I remembered that I didn't post my God moment.

On Monday I got a text from a friend from seminary.  He was going through pictures with his 4 year old daughter and she wanted to skype with me and Bob.  I think she was more interested in seeing herself on the screen, but it was great to actually see them and talk to Joe and his kids for a bit.

Yesterday I went outside to burn the palms for today's Ash Wednesday service.  Tried doing this on Sunday but with all the ran it didn't work out so well.  And what do I see outside my porch?  The first flowers of the year.

Where have you seen God the past few days?

Monday, March 7, 2011

God Moments of the Weekend

This weekend was crazy and therefore not able to blog about my God moments.  So here they are all at once.

Thursday I felt God when I had a some time to kill in the afternoon and spent it wandering around Barnes and Nobles and trying on clothes that I had no intention of buying at Target.  It was a great time of just resting and enjoying the day, taking some time for myself and while there was never one moment throughout the day when I was really touched by God, I knew I was loved by being able to just enjoy some time out by myself.

Friday, Bob and I took it easy during the day but we ended up working out together for a bit something we NEVER do mainly because we ended up in a minor fight about the correct form of a sit up. But God was with us as ended the workout laughing together.  At one point I noticed the wedding sampler that my dad made us that says "Live, Love Laugh Together" and that is exactly what we did.

Saturday I spent the majority of the day at a "Doing What Matter's" conference in Bridgeport, then came back prepared for Sunday and made bread.  I had to laugh when I tried to get the bread out of the pan because the bottom stuck and it looked like this:
It tastes wonderful just doesn't look like much.  Kinda works for God's presence, it doesn't always look like much but it is still wonderful to experience.

And last night God reminded me that sometimes we have to wait just a little longer for things to be accomplished.  I have been working on a needlepoint project for just shy of a year now (started March 11, 2010) and eagerly sat down to finish it up last night.  However I came up short.  I ran out of one color with about 20 stitches left to go.  Had this happened any other day of the week I probably would have been tempted to jump into my car, drive the 15 miles to the closest Michael's to buy some more floss and finish it up.  But at last it was Sunday and stores close early.  So instead I must have a bit more patience. But it looks pretty good otherwise:

Where have you seen God this weekend?

MMC: Temptation and Lent

Good Morning Bethlehem!

I hope the flooding in basements and side streets are minor for you today, though I have already heard otherwise from a few people.  

  • Ash Wednesday service is this Wednesday, March 9 at 7:30pm.  All are invited to come to worship as we start our Lenten journey and receive ashes to remember that we are human
  • Council is meeting after worship this coming Sunday, March 13
  • There will be a representative from Calumet at Bethlehem on Sunday to talk about Calumet.  He will also be presenting some information about the camp to the council meeting.   
Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week's question was "How many years did it take Solomon to build the temple?"  According to 1 Kings 6:38 "[Solomon] was seven years in building the it."  Congratulations to Tiina for winning this week's puzzler.  

This week's question is:  "On what mountain did the transfiguration occur?  A) Mount Hebron B) Mount Tabor C) Mount Sinai D) The Bible doesn't say.  If you know the answer, email me by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.  

Yesterday's Sermon
You can read it here if you wish.  How have you seen God in the majestic, the lowly and the mundane?  Keep emailing and brining in your pictures of how you see God.  

This Sunday's Worship
Serving this coming Sunday is: worship assistant- Ellen G, reader - Bob M-C, communion assistant - Anna H, Usher - Matt M, coffee hour host - The Hawley family.  If you would like to serve as an usher, set up & clean up the altar or to provide meals for those in need, please let me know.  

Also a reminder that Saturday is Daylight Savings time, so Spring Forward an hour on Saturday night!

Now onto the texts:

Before looking at the text for Sunday, I did want to discuss the gospel for Ash Wednesday which is Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.  Jesus tells us to participate in spiritual devotion in secret, to not show off what you are giving, how much you are praying, or how dedicated you fast.  Lent is a time when many Christians either give something up (from food to Facebook) or take something on (volunteering, praying or scripture reading as a few examples).  To start a new spiritual practice during Lent can be quiet rewarding as you realize either how much of your life is focused on what you gave up or how much your life is enriched by what you take on.  I encourage you to start a new spiritual disciple during Lent if you so feel called and see how your life is changed by it. 

Now onto Sunday.  The first lesson is Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7, the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  The idea of this being the fall of humanity did not develop until a few hundred years after Christ, and still today in Jewish interpretation on this reading it is a more positive account, because we as humans have both our good and evil selves in tension and conflict.  How are your good and evil selves in tension with each other?  Are you glad that you can see the difference between good and evil or would you rather live naively and not know the difference?  

The second lesson is Romans 5:12-19.    You might need to read through this a few times slowly as Paul logic is not always plain.  I think the Celebrate summarizes this text nicely "Through Adam's disobedience, humanity came under bondage to sin and death, from which we cannot free ourselves.  In Christ's obedient death, God graciously showers on us the free gift of liberation and life."  Another idea would be to reread the text submitting "debt" for "trespass".  How does being confronted by the idea that Jesus died for our sins makes you react?  Have you been told this so many times you are now numb to it?  Or is it something that is still shocking each time you hear it?

The gospel is Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days after his baptism, where he is tempted by the devil.   Three times the devil tempts Jesus to prove himself as God's son, yet God just declared Jesus as the Son of God at Jesus' baptism.  With the temptation of Eve when she gave in and Jesus' temptation when he does not, which do you hope to follow when you are tempted by sin?  Which are you more likely to follow?  What does it mean for us when we are not able to resist temptation?  

Hope you all have a great week and see you Wednesday!
Pastor Becca

Who Was the One Transformed?

You know it is really hard to write a sermon when the week before I received so many wonderful comments about the previous sermon.  In fact in all honesty I don't think I really got across the point that I wanted to make with this sermon, I'm not even sure I can clearly state that point, but basically Jesus was transfigured for our sake.  The transfiguration occurred so that the disciple and us today would know that Jesus is the messiah in everything that we do, not just this great majestic moments.  

As you might have figured out thus far, yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday and the gospel text was Matthew 17:1-9.  

Enjoy the sermon, even if it is not my best. 

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent, when the church commemorated Jesus leading his disciples up the mountain and his is transfigured before them.  And as they head back down the mountain, Jesus and his disciples journey towards Jerusalem, towards the cross, and towards Jesus’ death and graciously also his resurrection. 

But really it is not Jesus who was transformed up on that mountain, it was Peter, James and John.  Jesus is not transfigured for his own sake.  Moses and Elijah did not come and hand out with Jesus so that they could discuss the best strategy for Jesus to take in order to upset as many Jewish and Roman leaders as he can.  Jesus’ face did not shine like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white so that Jesus could point to himself and say “This is pretty cool huh?  I must be the Son of God.”

All these things happened so that Peter, James and John would realize that Jesus is truly the Messiah, that he truly is the Son of God.  Peter had just confessed Jesus to be the Messiah and then renounced Jesus after Jesus foretold of his coming death.  So now Jesus is transfigured before them so that they would understand what it means to be the Messiah.  Jesus’ true identity was revealed to them so that they, Peter, James and John, will understand a little more what Jesus has to do.  God comes to them in this majestic display so that during Jesus’ crucifixion when it will seem like God has left them entirely, Peter, James and John will remember that God is still with them.  Jesus brought them up the mountain so that even when Peter, James and John were in the deepest valley, they would know that God is still with them.   

All these things happened in a way that smacked Peter, James and John upside the head so they realize what it was that they were confessing. It was God’s way of saying “This really is the Messiah, my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.  Listen to him.” 

But what about us?  Yes many of us can say that at some point in our lives we have had mountain top experiences.  Times that were so awesome, so incredible, that we just wanted to stay there.  Everything in life just seemed to fit together, there was no conflict, no worries, no cares.  Times when we have felt surrounded by love, when we have felt God’s presence and we didn’t want to return to real life.

But I doubt any of our mountain top experiences compare to Peter, James and John going up a mountain with Jesus and watching as his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.  None of our experiences compare to Moses and Elijah suddenly standing before us or a voice coming from a cloud telling us that Jesus truly is the Son of God. 

And yet God still comes to us.  In many ways God comes to us to show love, grace, and abundance.  We expect God to be at these high places, these mountain top experiences and God is.  But God is not just up there, both physically, a top mountain, and metaphorically, at the high points of life.  God is also down here.  God is here on earth, revealing God’s self to us in many different ways. 

God is in the majestic.  Many of us are easily able to see God in the extraordinary.  We see God in new lives being born.  We see God when someone who was once homeless is now able to give back to her community by volunteering at the shelter she once stayed in.  We see God in room filled with hundreds of people singing praises to God.  We see God in the extremes of nature, especially things like a perfect summer day with a slight cooling breeze, a forest filled with brilliant fall leaves, the snow lightly falling on a moon lit night, the vibrant flowers that peak out of the ground  in just a few weeks and a breathtaking sunrise or sunset. 

These are moments that we don’t experience everyday or every week and yet they are moments that we see God.  We see God in these things, these unordinary things, because they are moments when God lightly smacks us upside the head and we realize what it was that we confessing. It was God’s way of saying “I am the creator of heaven and earth.” 

God is also in the trying moments.  Many of us have seen God in the midst of despair, though sometimes it is not until we look back that we see that God was there with us.  We see God in the face and words of a friend who comforted us during the death of a loved one.  We see God in the new vocation, the new calling, which we have discovered after being laid off or failing out of school.  We see God the food brought to our home during an illness.  We see God when we are able to forgive someone after they have caused us hardship.

These too are moments that we thankfully do not experience everyday or every week.  And yet we see God in them.  We see God in these things, these unordinary things, because they are moments when God lightly smacks us upside the head and we realize what it is that we confess. It was God’s way of saying “I am the Holy Spirit who shepherds the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, and the forgiveness of sins.”

And yet God is also in the ordinary.  God is in the mundane.  God is in the plain moments of our lives.  God is with us when we get up in the morning, work out, take a shower, drive to work, work, go grocery shopping, do the laundry, cook a meal, clean the house, do the dishes, watch television and God is still with us when we get ready for bed.  God is constantly with us, on the mountain tops of life and in the valleys and God is with us in on the plains, the ordinary moments of life.  God in with us in our very being, in our breathing, in our abilities to do God’s work in this world, even if that work is just three loads of laundry. 

These are moments when God is not smacking us upside the head so that we might realize what it is that we confess to.  Because if God is constantly smacking us upside the head we will get used to it, and the extraordinary will become the ordinary.  But God is still there in them, leading us, guiding us, walking with us along the way.  Sometimes Jesus may lead us up the mountain, sometimes Jesus may help guide us out of the valley, but most of the time Jesus is walking beside us, in the ordinary, in the normal. God’s love is among us even in the most ordinary of times