Monday, April 25, 2011

MMC: Easter & Seeing

Happy Easter!

I hope the joy of Easter is continuing for you today as Easter is not just one day but 50 days in the church calendar. 

First things first: THANK YOU!  Thank you to everyone who helped make Holy Week and Easter so wonderful.  Especially thank you to Frank and Judy C for organizing the Easter Breakfast (yumm). To Becky P for organizing the flower order and decorating the sanctuary (beautiful).  To Lyudmila and the wonderful celebration choir, bells and Jeff for all the practice that went into singing at Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Easter Vigil and Easter morning, it was a delight to hear.  To everyone who served as communion assistants, ushers, readers, and worship assistants over the three days, for your willingness to serve God and God's people.  To the Easter Bunny who made a lot of kids, young and old, really excite to see him and receive some goodies. To everyone who invited friends and family to join us, whether they were able to attend or not, you were sharing the Easter message with them.  And to all of you for being such a delightful community of God, God is truly present in each of you.  

A few announcements
  • Items are being collected for the tag sale on May 14.  Please bring in gently used items to the church basement.  Official donation times are on Thursday evenings, Saturday mornings and Sundays before and after worship.  However if you would like to stop by during a different time please give me a call to make sure the church will be open, or if you have a key stop by anytime. 
  • Bible Studies continue this week!  Women's bible study at 7:30pm at the parsonage on Wednesday and a co-ed study of the book of Revelation on Sunday at 9am.  
  • Council is meeting on Monday May 9 at 7:30pm, all are invited to attend. 
Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week's question was: What festival was being celebrated the week of Jesus’ death in Jerusalem? A) Rosh Hashanah B) Passover C) Yom Kippur D) Mardi Gras.  There are multiple references in each of the four gospel that tell of the preparations for Passover that were occurring while Jesus was in Jerusalem during his final week.  It was also after the Seder meal that Jesus took the bread and cup and commanded that we eat and drink in remembrance of him.  It is also because of the Passover celebrations that the soldiers made sure Jesus was dead before sunset and why it wasn’t until Sunday that the women returned to care for Jesus’ body.  Congratulations to Paul D for winning the puzzler.

This week's question is: How many days was Jesus dead?  A) 1 B) 3 C) 7 D) 40  If you know the question, or are willing to look it up, email me with the correct answer by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing. 

Yesterday's sermon
A written version can be found here.  How have others told you about the Easter message? How are you spreading the Easter message?   How have you seen the Lord?

Sunday's worship
Serving this week is:
Worship Assistant - Ryan H
Reader ______
Communion Assistant - Cheryl M
Ushers ______
Bread Baker - Becca MC
Counter - Frank C
Coffee Hour Hosts - Dorothy H & Nancy L
Please let me know if you are willing to serve as a reader or usher on Sunday

Sunday's text
The Second Sunday of Easter, the gospel is always the story of "doubting" Thomas, John 20:19-31.  When have you needed proof in order to believe?  When have other's testimonies not been enough but you have needed to explore, to see, for yourself?  How are we all like "doubting" Thomas?  What ways are we to be like him?  What ways are we to not be like him?

The first lesson is Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Peter's Pentecost sermon.  Peter preached about Jesus' death and resurrection and looks to the Psalms (16:8-11 to be exact) to show that Jesus is the Messiah.  How have Old Testament scriptures helped you understand Jesus as the messiah?  Can we, followers of Jesus, just get rid of the Old Testament? 

The second lesson is 1 Peter 1:3-9.  Verse 8 reads "Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy."  How do you love Jesus, who you have not seen physically?  How do you believe in him and rejoice?  What are ways that you do see him?

Have a blessed Easter week!
Pastor Becca 

I Have Seen the Lord!

Happy Easter!  

Easter at Bethlehem was such a joy-filled packed morning.  Pancake breakfast, flowers decorating the sanctuary, joy-filled choir, bells ringing during Alleluias, a remembrance of baptism, family and friends worshiping with us, and even a visit by the Easter Bunny after worship.  

For various reasons, including wanting to start worship with part of the gospel (I have always found it odd that we begin worship with "Alleluia Christ is risen!" but we don't hear about his resurrection until a third of the way through the service) I decided to preach on John's version of the resurrection instead of Matthews which is the preferred text in the lectionary.  Since Mary is the one who spread the Easter message with her words "I have seen the Lord" I was struck by how much that is like when people share their stories each week of where they have seen God.  


I have seen the Lord!  Those are five simple words (only 3 words in Greek) that have changed the world. 

Over the past few months I have asked you, the people of Bethlehem, week after week, where have you seen God this week?  So today on Easter I ask you:  Where have you seen the Lord?
And today I have a second question for you:  What is it like for you when you share these stories, these moments of where you have seen God, the Lord in you life? 
My observation is that it took time for you all to be comfortable with answering that question.  Many of you were or still are too timid to answer that question publicly.  And that is okay because often I still here stories, via email or during coffee hour or senior lunch or visits about how you have seen God in your lives.  But as some of you have started to answer that question more of you have become comfortable answering it.  And once you answer one week, you are more likely to share a story or a God moment in the following weeks.  And then it become contagious as you share stories.  There have been a few weeks where I have felt that worship should just be us sharing our stories because nothing I can say in preaching would convey the Easter message, God’s message of love and grace any more than what you have said through your stories. 

I picture this process was similar for Mary.  She was probably timid or fearful at first.  What if the disciples think that she is crazy for having seen Jesus whose body they just laid in the grave a few days before?  What if they don’t get how excited she is?  Or what if they think she is lying?  But instead she told her story.  “I have seen the Lord.” And in doing so she shared the Easter message, God’s message of love and grace with those disciples who as yet did not understand the scriptures that Jesus must rise from the dead. 

And once Mary told her story, “I have seen the Lord!”, then Simon Peter and the other disciple shares that they had seen the empty tomb.  And they told not just the disciples, the 11 remaining close followers of Jesus, but all of his followers.  And in doing so they shared the Easter message, God’s message of love and grace with many who believed.  Mary’s story, the Easter message, then spread farther and wider.  And as Jesus appeared to others they too told their stories. And the Easter message, God’s message of love and grace continued to spread.

And it has continued to spread and be retold in new ways all the way till today.  And when we share with each other how we have seen God, that “we have seen the Lord!”, we are sharing the Easter message, God’s message of love and grace with each other.  And hopefully you are not just sharing your stories in here in this sanctuary but other there with friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, strangers in the line at the grocery or fellow parents at the baseball field.  Because when we share our stories, we become part of the Easter story, of God’s message of love and grace that is still here today, abundant and alive because Alleluia! Christ is risen! 

Christ has overcome sin and death, Christ has died in order to forgive our sins.  Christ has died for each and everyone of us so we are part of the Easter story, God’s message of love and grace, and you being willing to share this Easter story with one another is just one of the many away that I see God in you.  I have seen the Lord and I see in you!  Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jesus Died

Good Friday has always had special meaning to me.  The texts are so powerful that not a lot needs be said by the preacher.  So here is one of the shortest sermons I have ever written.  And like Maundy Thursday I preached more on the day then on the text, but the two are so intertwined that it is hard to separate them.  The gospel for the day is John 18:1-19:42.


Jesus died.  In one of the cruelest forms of capital punishment ever thought of, Jesus was put to death.  But first he was whipped, he was beaten almost to death, he was given one less lash than the number that was considered to be inhuman.  They publicly humiliated him by pushing a crown on his head, one made of thorns that pierced his skin.  They then forced him to carry his cross, a heavy burden upon his back that was raw and bloody from the all the lashing he had received.  Just this process was so exhausting that in the other gospels we hear that Jesus collapsed under weight and the Romans had to get a bystander to carry the cross for him. 

And then after the Romans had humiliated him, beaten him and physically exhausted him, they then nailed Jesus to a cross.  Stabbing him through the wrist and feet with nails in order to place him up on the cross, so that he would surely die of suffocation if he did not first die from blood loss. 

But not being satisfied that Jesus had been humiliated enough, they continued to mock him while they waited for Jesus to die.  They placed bets for his clothes, maybe whoever most accurately guessed how long it would take him to die got his best tunic.  They placed a sign over his head saying “here is the king of the Jews.”  They mocked and teased him from the ground, commanding him to come down from the cross.  Even when they gave him wine, something that we often think of one moment of mercy and dignity, it was actually just another moment of humility as a sponge on a stick was commonly used as toilet paper in the ancient world.  And when it was over, to make sure that he had died, they then pierced Jesus’ side.  The Romans and the crowds did everything in their power not just to make sure that Jesus had died, but to make sure he would not have wanted to continue to live.

And it is this body, this lifeless, bloody body, full of wounds on his head, hands, feet, back and sides that was give to Joseph of Arimathea.  It was this body, that was humiliated, mocked, cursed and spat at, that Nicodemus helped place in the tomb for burial.  It was this body, one broken and weak, not strong and with a perfect physique, that Mary and the other woman helped wrap in linen cloth with spices and aloes.

It was this body that has been given to us.  Jesus body, bless and broken.  It is this body who’s footsteps we are called to walk in.  It is this body who carries us and supports us when we are not able to support ourselves. 

And it is this body who in a few days will be resurrected from the grave.  No longer bloody, no longer broken, no longer humiliated.  And it is that body who give us life.  

Power in Blood

Maunday (commandment) Thursday is the night in which we celebrate and remember the night Jesus was betrayed but first when he sat with his disciples during his Seder meal and afterwards broke bread and shared a cup of wine and gave the disciple new commandments, that we partake of this meal often in remembrance of him  and to love one another just as Jesus has loved us.  

While the gospel for the evening is John 13:1-17, 31b-35, Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, I actually preached on the second lesson 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 but more about the overall meaning of the day.


The body of Christ given to you!  The blood of Christ shed for you!

Those words or something similar are spoken to you each week as you receive communion.  And they remind us as we receive the bread and wine the words that are recalled just a few minutes before, the words Jesus said “This is my body given for you, eat of it in remembrance of me.  This is my blood shed for you, drink of it in remembrance of me.” 

Each week we receive Christ’s body and blood, the ultimate sacrifice. 

And there is power in blood.  Blood means life.  Through blood new life is given in birth and life is saved through transfusions.  A small amount of blood contains our DNA, can be tested for a variety of diseases, and can tell someone about our diet or possible drug use.  There is power in blood.

And yet blood is unclean.  We avoid touching any but our own for fear of diseases including hepatitis and AIDS.  We often don’t want to know about our own blood because we associate the sight of it with pain.  Some people even faint at the sight of blood. Many become squeamish when there is too much of it in movies, especially ones like Saving Private Ryan or The Passion of Christ. 

And yet Jesus gave us his blood!

Blood!  The blood of a lamb had kept the Israelite’s alive during the Passover.  And now here the blood of Jesus the Lamb of God was given to the disciples during the Passover, in order to keep them from death. And it is still given to us, to keep us from death.  Through the blood of the lamb, God saved the Israelites from physical death and through the blood of the Lamb of God, God saves us from spiritual death, from eternal death. 

And when we drink the blood of the Lamb of God we are doing something radical.  The early Christians were persecuted not because they were worshiping Jesus, not because there was a hope and joy in them that could not be contained, but because they were thought to be cannibals.  Rumors spread about this group of people who were eating the body and drinking the blood of the man they worshiped.  

And we today are still participating in this metaphorical cannibalism.  Jesus is in, with, and under the bread and wine of communion.  We are drinking Jesus’ blood, while the wine still remains wine, and receiving new life through Jesus’ gift of life and in doing so we are asking for mercy.  “Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”

Lord have mercy upon us, through your life giving blood. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

My Favorite Worship

Really it is hard to pick a favorite worship service of the year, but easily in the top 5 of my all time most meaningful worship services is Palm Sunday at Bethlehem.  And it doesn't even involve a live donkey!

My History with Palm Sunday
In years past I was always ambivalent to Palm Sunday.

As a young child I remember making palm leaves from green construction paper and going around to the various Sunday School classes singing "Hosanna, Hosanna Christ the Lord be King" and waving this big green palm branch only to then go into worship and get a little dinky spear shaped leaf that was perfect for tickling (or stabbing) my siblings with from 2 feet away.

In high school I remember the live donkey that one year and one year only came into the sanctuary where it then took a big donkey poo near the altar.  After that the donkey remained outside.

In college and seminary Palm Sunday meant having a great outdoor festive party at the beginning of worship to only come inside to be bored by a 20 plus minute long gospel reading, that even read in a dramatic style is too long.  There was also the year a pastor rode a hobby horse into the sanctuary on Palm Sunday, but that is a different story.

So last year, when approaching my first Holy Week as a pastor, I was hesitant about Palm Sunday because I remember the joy I had as a child, but have seen the ways congregations have tried to make it "entertaining" and have faced the boredom that can happen with such a long gospel when you celebrate Passion Sunday instead.

The catalyst for doing something different was a bit of luck when between a new pastor, a new Sunday School coordinator and a small Sunday school with overworked moms, decided not to do a children's pageant on Christmas (Praise Jesus!).  One thought was the kids could do the dramatic reading on Palm Sunday instead, something that adults at Bethlehem had been leading for years.  But the reading, which is often too long for adults, is way too long for kids.  So with some creative thinking between the Sunday School coordinator and myself, we thought, what if we restructure the worship service so we walk with Jesus during the passion?   And that is exactly what we've done these past two years now.

Basic Structure of the Worship 
We started outside with some announcements and palms.

Worship itself began with the call and response of:
Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the Highest

The congregation then sang that song that I learned as a young child "Hosanna, Hosanna Christ the Lord be King" and then the children and youth of Bethlehem take over.  We heard of Jesus's entry into Jerusalem, join together for the prayer of the day, then with All Glory, Laud and Honor processed into the sanctuary with some of the youngest kids leading us carrying the cross, ribbon poles and the bible.

The children and youth then told us of Mary anointing Jesus' feet with perfume and Jesus announcing that we will always have the poor but we will not always have him with us.  So in response, we, like Mary, gave our offering to God.

Then we heard of Jesus' last supper, so we then celebrated the meal which Jesus instituted.

Afterwards the reading of the gospel continued with Peter's denial foretold and Jesus praying in Gethsemane so we responded by offering up our prayers to God.

The gospel then tells of Jesus' betrayal and arrest and how Peter sat in the courtyard and denied knowing Jesus 3 times.  We as a congregation responded by admitting our faith using the Apostle's creed.

And then as the reading unfolded with Jesus' trial, his crucifixion, his death and his burial, we responded to each part with a verse from Were You There?  Ending with a brief moment of silence and the simple words "depart in peace".

Why This is My Favorite Worship
I am amazed at the comments that are given about this service .  It is wonderful to have the kids lead us in worship, especially when in that famous Palm Sunday hymn of All Glory, Laud and Honor we sing the words "from whom the lips of children, the sweet hosannas sing."  This worship has been so meaningful as we walk with Jesus because it reminds us that our prayers, confession, offering and communion are things that Jesus taught us or commanded us to do.  And it is wonderful to hear the full passion but to give the congregation opportunity to reflect and respond after each section of the story.

I personally love this service because it allows the kids to be in charge.  Not only were they the readers but they were the greets, ushers, and communion assistants as well, they have such a sense of pride about not just assisting in worship (which happens most weeks) but as a group being in charge of it.  This worship service also allows them to lead us in pure, plain scripture.  So many Christmas pageants end up being about what the symbols on the tree mean and in turn scripture is not read, in some cases not even referred to.  And as a dramatic reading there were no costumes, no lines to memorize, no acting to rehearse, and since most of the kids just stand up in their pew to read their lines, less chance of stage fright.  Just scripture, which we have read over a few times together so that the kids can hear the whole story and practice the harder words like prophecy, Golgotha, Nazareth or blasphemy.

Due to this being a small congregation all the kids are able to participate without having to try and give 80 different kids speaking parts.  The youngest were part of the crowd with a few individual lines and I'll admit to purposely having the haunting lines of  "He must be calling for Elijah" and "Truly this man was the son of God" said by two of our youngest members.  The older kids had larger parts such as Pilate, Judas or Peter.  One high school student has even been willing to be the narrator for the entire worship the last two years, but even that portion could be broken by section to multiple kids if need be.  Jesus has been played by my husband, Bob, the last two years, as no other child has volunteered to play such a large part (and in the words of the Sunday School kids last year "Bob has a beard so he should be Jesus.")  I'm hoping that by next year one of the high school students will be willing to step up and read Jesus' lines.

Truly I love this worship and it is amazing to see the impact the entire congregation from all generations.

MMC: Holy Week Edition

Good Morning Bethlehem

A special thank you to all the children and youth of Bethlehem yesterday who lead us in worship and to all the parents for helping coordinate and just having all around wonderful kids.  We are truly blessed by our youngest generation.  

Did anyone take any pictures during worship yesterday?  If so can you either email them to me or post them on the church's facebook page?

This week's schedule
Thursday: 7:30pm Maundy Thursday Worship 
Friday: 7:30pm Good Friday worship
Saturday: 10:30am Worship Together
          3pm Easter set up (see below)
          8pm Easter Vigil at Christ Episcopal, Redding Ridge
Sunday 8:30am Easter Breakfast
           9am Choir practice
           10am Easter Worship

Looking for some helping hands on Saturday at 3pm.  We will be decorating the sanctuary, setting up for Easter Breakfast and if the weather is nice, doing some minor yard work to make the place look beautiful for the next day!  

And on Easter Sunday come with your bells on (or at least in your hand). We will be ringing bells throughout worship whenever that wonderful A-word is said (you know the one we said goodbye to for Lent).  Ring bells throughout the service whenever it is spoken or sung (except the choir anthem). 

Easter Breakfast
Didn't get your ticket?  Don't worry, there will be plenty of food and you can buy your ticket there.  $10 adult, $5 kids or $20 for a household.  We do need a few people to bring sweet bread/coffee cake/ etc.  If you are willing to bring something, please let Frank C know

Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week's question was There is another person named Lazarus in the gospel (beside the one raised from the dead) who is it? In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells a story of a man named Lazarus who was a beggar who went to heaven when he died while the rich man whose house he begged in front of went to Hades.  Congratulations Nancy B. for winning this week's puzzler.

This week's question is What festival was being celebrated the week of Jesus' death in Jerusalem? A) Rosh Hashanah B) Passover C) Yom Kippur D) Mardi Gras.  Know the answer, or willing to google it?  Send me an email by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.  The winner this week will get a special Easter prize.  

Yesterday's worship
Was there a certain part of the reading that really struck you?  Did you enjoy hearing the reading in this format with us breaking to participate in the Last Supper, pray, or confess our faith, when we heard Jesus and his disciples doing such things?  

Assisting this week
Maundy Thursday
Worship Assistant & Reader - Ellen G.
Communion Assistant ______
Usher _______
Altar stripper - Nancy B.

Good Friday
Worship Assistant & Reader - Nancy B.
Cross Bearer _______

Easter Vigil
Readers - Ellen G., Tori M. & Cheryl M.

Worship Assistant - Ellen G.
Reader - Judy C.
Communion Assistant - Tori M.
Ushers - Bob MC & Anna H.
Altar setup/cleanup _______
Bread bakers _______
Offering counter - Frank C.
Coffee Hour - Breakfast

If you are able to serve as an usher or communion assistant on Maundy Thursday, the cross bearer on Good Friday or the altar person or bread baker for Easter please let me know.  

Have a blessed Holy Week!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Where Have You Seen God this Week?

The idea of blogging my God moments (which granted I have not been good about this last week as I've been busy preparing for Holy Week) came out of three things.

  1. A sermon I wrote a few weeks before Lent about living into a new economy where we focus on God's abundant love.  
  2. A conversation I had with a friend  about God Moments and getting our congregations to realize we are constantly having those moments.  
  3. A question that I have been asking in some form or another since August at the beginning of worship: Where have you seen God this week?

That question has been life giving.  It has been awe-inspiring.  It has change Bethlehem's culture. And it has been such a blessing.

Each week at the end of the announcements, which are at the beginning of worship, I ask this question to help us transition our mindset from the to-do list mentality announcements can be like to one of worship.

The first few weeks, even months that I asked Bethlehem "Where have you seen God this week?" I got a lot of blank stares, a few jokes and it often seemed like it was only the same two people answering that question week after week.  But once that foundation has been laid, it is now a vital part of our worship service.

This past Sunday, 17 people answered that question.  That is huge for any congregation but when you consider that we had 35 people in worship that is the Holy Spirit working!  And the people who answered varied in age from 10 to...well lets just say I would get hit if I posted their age but to give you some idea later she talked about teaching Sunday School to someone who is now retired.  A visitor even answered as well and introduced herself and her daughter.

The people of Bethlehem are seeing God everywhere!  A nurse told a story about a patient being upset and hostile and when she call on God he calmed down within minutes.  A kid talked about being upset about not being able to find something and her parents helped her and how God was there.  Many people see God in all the spring flowers and wildlife that has been reemerging in recent weeks.  Others see God in funny mishaps or even videos that were passed onto them via YouTube.

It has been such a blessing to share our God moments.  Really it gives me chills!

As a church universal I think we have gotten away from personally telling about how we have seen God and have been affected by God's grace.  And yet that is the heart of the church, telling our stories, sharing how Jesus has changed us.  Paul told his conversion story, the disciples shared their experiences with Jesus, the prophets told of their conversations with God.  These people were changed by God and the through their stories the Holy Spirit work in other who came and join their community, their faith.  Therefore I do not find it surprising at all that since this question has started to be asked, we have grown both in attendance and in membership.

And that is just one of the many ways that I have seen God through the people of Bethlehem.

So where have you seen God this week? 

Monday, April 11, 2011

MMC: Palm Sunday

Good Morning Bethlehem!  

What joy and excitement is in the air as we journey towards Easter.  But first we must go through Holy Week and celebrate Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, participate in the last supper and witness his death on the cross.  

Holy Week Schedule
Sunday April 17 - Palm Sunday
      10am the children and youth of Bethlehem will lead us in worship through a dramatic reading of Matthew's passion narrative.Worship will be slightly different as we will walk with Jesus through the passion and have parts of our worship (offering, communion, prayers) as they appear in the text. 
       After Worship - stick around for an Easter Festival.  Our high school students will be leading some crafts for all ages and bring a dish to share for the potluck
Thursday April 21 - Maundy Thursday - Worship with communion at 7:30pm with a blessing of the feet (no need to take off your shoes)
Friday April 22 - Good Friday - Worship at 7:30pm
Saturday April 23 - Easter Vigil - Worship at 8pm at Christ Episcopal on Redding Ridge
Sunday April 24 - Easter
       8:30am - pancake breakfast tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for kids or $20 for a household. 
       10am - festival worship including the celebration choir, bells, a lot of flowers and the spoken refrain "Alleluia Christ is risen!"

  • The tag sale date has been changed to May 14
  • Items for the tag sale can be dropped off on Sunday mornings, Thursdays from 6-8pm and Saturdays from 10:30-noon 
  • Senior lunch is meeting this Wednesday at noon at Ritz Asia on route 7.  Please let me or Lillian J. know if you are planning to attend. 
  • We are participating in Buck-a-cluck throughout April.  Every dollar donated will go to the world hunger fund to provide chickens to needy families throughout the world which then provide the families with eggs for food and sale. 
Where have you seen God?
As I mentioned on Sunday, I have been so amazed at how you have overwhelming responded to this question. People have told me how they have been upset if they are running late to worship for fear that they will miss hearing other stories or being able to tell their own.  I also wanted to pass on two videos that people have sent to me this week of how they have seen God.  The first is from Carl R. - a video of street musicians from around the world sing Stand by Me.  The second is the video Mark H. talked about yesterday during worship of Jesu, Joy of Mans Desiring played on a wooden xylophone. 

Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week's puzzler was: What is the name of the blind man that Jesus heals in the gospel of Mark?  A) Barabbas B) Legion C) Jarus D) Bartimaeus In Mark 10:46-52 Jesus heals a blind man named Bartimaeus. Congratulations to Carl R. for winning this week's puzzler. 

This week's puzzler is: Beside Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, there is another person named Lazarus in the gospel, who is it? A) the person who died and went to heaven. B) tax collector who wished to see Jesus. C) a disciple of John the Baptist. D) the father of the demon possessed boy. If you know the answer or even if you have to google it, email me the answer by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing. 

Yesterday's Sermon
Missed it?  What to read it again?  Find it here.  What was a misconception that you had as a child or maybe that your child had?  What is a way that you don't get it today? Is it hard to put your faith in Jesus?  At what point do you need to stop explaining to yourself that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and what point do you need to just believe it?

Sunday's worship
As mentioned above the children and you with lead us in worship through reading, they will also be the communion assistants, ushers and other worship leaders.  
Coffee hour will be a pot luck, so please bring a dish to share

Sunday's text
We will be traveling through the passion text is Matthew which is 21:1-11 and 26:1-27:66.  What is your favorite part of the passion narrative?  What is the hardest part for you to hear?  Has there been a particular holy week worship that made this story come to life for you?  What made that worship so special?

Have a blessed week and may you see God everywhere you go!
Pastor Becca


Yesterday's sermon was based on the gospel text John 11:1-45.  More specifically the conversation between Martha and Jesus.  During the sermon when I asked what were some misconceptions you had about the bible, the church or faith as a child, I was highly amused by the answers both then and those told to me after worship.  Some answers included: thinking the people going up to communion were really going to be killed, thinking church only happened on Christmas and Easter, saying the Lord's prayer as "give us this day our jelly bread," and probably my favorite, thinking Jesus was resurrected as the Easter Bunny.  What were your misconceptions as a child (or even as an adult)?


I want to highlight that conversation between Martha and Jesus.  It was:
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”  Jesus said to her, “your brother will rise again.”  Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her “I am the resurrection and the life.  Thos who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”  And Martha said to him “Yes, Lord I believe that you are the Messiah, the son of God, the one coming into the world.” 

Now the reason I wanted to pay special attention to that passage is because I think we are all like Martha at times.  We just don’t get it, even though we have faith.  And sometimes our faith, our belief is flawed, even though we truly believe and have faith in Jesus. 

There are two themes that often come up in congregations when people talk about their childhood and faith.  The first is how we played church or played in church.  The things we would do to keep us occupied during the sermons or the readings or in my case the communion liturgy as my brother and I would memorize and whisper to each other the words of the institution to see who could be the most accurate and fastest.  Or how we would sometimes recount what took place in church at home as kids and acted out communion or sermons. 

The second theme that happens when we talk about our faith and childhood is misconceptions that we had.  Things that we understood incorrectly and later during Sunday School or confirmation or even as adults learned the truth about.  A common one, including one I remember asking my second grade teacher about was that Jesus was a baby, grew up to be a boy and then instantaneously became and adult, because well that is the way it feels when we read the bible since there are no other stories about his early life.  I might be opening a can of worms here, but what were some misconceptions you had about our faith, the bible or the church?

We all have these misconceptions.  I would guess that the majority of Americans believe that Jesus was Caucasian.  Or that we go to heaven or hell based on how much good or bad we do in the world. 

And here was Martha whom Jesus loved, who had many conversations with Jesus, who did not understand that Jesus was the resurrection.  Martha’s statement about Lazarus being risen from the dead on the last day was a very common belief by many of the Jews of her time.  And it is not a wrong belief.  She just didn’t get it that Jesus could do marvelous things.  That Jesus could do wonderful things.  That he was not bound to human understanding. 

We too do not understand.  It is hard for us to understand that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and what exactly that means.  It is hard for us to understand who and what Jesus really is.  So sometimes our beliefs are simplified, they are not wrong beliefs,  It is just that we forget that Jesus can and is doing marvelous things in this world.  We can’t comprehend all the wonderful things Jesus can and is doing in this world. 

And Jesus gently corrects Martha.  If fact I’m pretty sure that even at the end of this conversation, when she goes to get Mary, Martha still does not understand what Jesus is talking about, especially when she is later concerned about the smell when they take away the stone in front of Lazarus’ tomb.  And Jesus knows this, his prayer says as much.  He is thanking God the Father for always hearing him, for knowing who he is, even when everyone else does not.  And then Jesus does something that far exceeds Martha’s expectations.  He brings Lazarus back to life.  Not on the last day, but that day!

And Jesus does far more than we ever expect.  Jesus brings us back to life.  Okay so I’m not talking him keeping us from dying a physical dead but a spiritual death.  We have been baptized into a death with his but also baptized into a new life with Jesus.  And yes I can never accurately explain to all of you exactly what that means for in many ways I don’t know exactly what the means either.  But I do know that Jesus has and will do marvelous things.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What I Have Learned from Biblical Storytelling

It has been a little over a year since the first Sunday that I memorized the gospel and told the story instead of read it and I have learned a lot about storytelling, the bible, ministry and myself during that time.  Here are seven of the top things that I have learned.

It doesn't take a lot of time but makes a big impact
Most weeks I can start memorizing on Thursday and be fine.  Really maybe a hour on Thursday, normally done while driving (yes I have a copy with me and read at stop lights then practice while moving), and another half hour on Saturday as I practice both the gospel and my sermon.  Plus maybe once or twice on Friday and Sunday morning while getting ready for the day.  And yet these distracted few hours are probably the most important to conveying the good news to people in the pews on Sunday as through storytelling people retain the story more than if I had just read the story.

I don't have to follow the script nor should I stand still.
At first I worried about getting every word exactly as they are written in the NRSV translation that is printed in our bulletins.  But as people have started to put their bulletins down to hear the story instead of read along, I have become more flexible in changing words because the phrasing in the NRSV is just not natural in my lexicon or in order to emphasis a phrase.  I have also started to move around more using the entire area in front of the altar.  Standing in different spots for the different characters, hand gestures and facial expressions have become just as meaningful in telling the story as the words and vocal inflections.

There is actually a lot of humor in the bible
I grew up in congregations that were fairly causal in style and laughter and clapping were commonplace.  But I can't remember ever laughing during a scripture reading.  And yet the scriptures are full of moments that are meant to be laughed at.  Just this last week's gospel in John 9 when the man born blind and the pharisees are going back and forth in verses 24-34 about what happened to the man born blind, there is a sense of humor that happens when the man asks if the pharisees want to be Jesus disciples or when he tells them "that the amazing thing, you do not know where Jesus is from and yet he opened my eyes."  And it is not just humor that comes across more through storytelling but also sorrow, grief, shock, and much much more.

The bible is open to interpretation
Well duh!  Anyone who has ever study the bible for more than a minute can tell you that.  But just like all forms of written word, emails and blogs included, the emotions do not always translate.  This coming Sunday's gospel has Thomas saying "Let us also go, that we may die with him."  I always thought Thomas said this in bravery but what if he said it sarcastically?  Just the tone of voice when a person is speaking can change the meaning of the text.

The impact is greater that you can ever expect
Biblical storytellers are rare.  I never heard or heard of anyone who memorize the text before I went to baby pastor school last year.  Most weeks I get at least one person who says something to me about they don't know how I memorize the text.  Visitors almost always do a double take as they are reading along and look up and realize I'm not in the pulpit.  Kids get excited to hear the gospel.  I have even been applauded a few times. There is a new energy, a new life at Bethlehem that I think really does come from this core of excitement from the gospel, which starts from really hearing the gospel.

Jesus was a storyteller
Recently in preparing for a confirmation lesson on the parables, I realized that Jesus was a storyteller.  He told these stories to his disciples and other followers and he probably told them more than once.  I picture Jesus sitting around a camp fire with the disciples on in a house that he is visiting and teaching about God but also sharing stories.  Retelling the time he walked on water or recounting the stories of Abraham, Moses or David from the Hebrew Scriptures.

We are all storytellers
We all have stories.  We tell stories about ourselves to get to know people.  We tell stories to share morals.  We tell stories for entertainment.  Everyone has a story to tell.  And we naturally want to repeat the good stories.

These are just a few things that I have learned over the last year.  This has been an exciting development in my ministry and I don't think I'll be going back to reading the text on a regular basis anytime soon.

For more information on biblical storytelling check out or the Network of Biblical Storytellers website and youtube channel.

Elijah, Communion and Homemade Bread

Saturday my God moment was at Worship Together.  It is amazing how the boys are running around and crazy but as soon as we sit down to tell a story they are a captive audience.  We have been practicing for the dramatic reading on Palm Sunday and hearing one of the youngest ones say "He must be calling for Elijah" just makes your heart melt.

On Sunday I felt God during communion.  Now one would think that as a pastor I must then be completely reverent during communion and solemnly say "Body of Christ given for you" over and over again.  Well I do say that but I include names, but I also share comments with parishioners quiet often.  As one guy was talking to the person behind him while waiting to go up to the altar and then didn't realize it was he turn, he practically ran up to the altar and I said "there is no rush to the Lord's table."  Another person always teases me by cupping his hands to receive the bread but also opening his mouth so I would place it on his tongue the old-school way (which to me is just gross, granted I do place the bread in is 10 month old sons mouth).  As one family went up to the railing I realize that the son was not there, though he was in worship, so I asked where the son was, got a shrug of the shoulders and gave the dad two pieces of bread, one for him and one for his son.  Just to partake in this holy meal but still realize that we are human is a God moment for me.

Yesterday as I was preparing a snack, I realized that everything on my plate I had made from scratch.

(sorry for the cell phone quality picture) Homemade bread that I made on Saturday, apple butter that I made this past fall and strawberry jam that I made last spring. There is just something about eating a meal that you made from scratch that fills you will pride and accomplishment.

Monday, April 4, 2011

MMC: Lazarus is Alive Again

Good Morning Bethlehem

As we are nearing the end of our Lenten journey there is much going on and I hope that you are able to join us as we prepare for and celebrate Easter.

A few announcements
  • Council is meeting Sunday after worship, all are invited to join us. 
  • Mark your calendar for Palm Sunday, April 17.  The children and youth of Bethlehem will be leading us in worship as we travel with Jesus in the last week before and including his death.  Then after worship we will be having an Easter Festival potluck and crafting event making confetti eggs and God's eyes. 
  • We are now collecting items for the tag sale.  If you would like to drop them off during the week and you do not have a key, please give me a call before come to make sure I'm around.  I will gladly open the door for you and even help you carry items if I'm available. 
Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week's question was: In the gospel last 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.  In John 2, during the wedding at Cana, Jesus asked water be drawn to fill jugs that he then turned into wine. Congratulations to Nancy B for winning the puzzler.

This week's question is: What is the name of the blind man that Jesus heals in the gospel of Mark?  A) Barabbas B) Legion C) Jarus D) Bartimaeus  Think you know the answer? Willing to Google it?  Email me by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing. 

Sunday's Worship
Serving in worship this week is:
Worship Assistant - Mark H
Reader - Bob MC
Communion Assistant - Cheryl M
Usher - Tori M & _____
Coffee Hour host - Jeff K
If you would like to be an usher or a communion bread baker, please let me know.  And thank you to all of you who are willing to serve to make our worship a more worshipful experience.

Sunday's Text
We again continue with this wonderful lectionary series of stories from John when Jesus talks of faith with people.  So I'm going to focus just on the gospel text John 11:1-45, the story of the death of Lazarus and Jesus raising him to life.  I'm not knocking our other three great readings, it is just that the gospel is so rich (and it is so long it is going to take me all week to memorize it). 
vs 4 Jesus says that God's glory will be revealed through Lazarus' illness.  When has God's glory been revealed to you through something that first seemed like a bad thing? 
Vs 5-6  Why do you think Jesus stayed two extra days?  Are your prayers always answered immediately?
vs 16  Thomas was willing to die for Jesus.  Are you willing to die for Jesus?  Are you willing to die for anyone or anything?
Both Martha and Mary say to Jesus that if he was there Lazarus would not have died.  Where they blaming Jesus, stating the obvious, putting their faith in him or something else? Do you ever blame God for not acting in time?
Vs 38  Lazarus' tomb is very similar to what Jesus' tomb will be like.  How is Jesus' resurrection like this return to life?  How are they different? 

I hope you all have a great week!  

We are Blind!

Yesterday we got another wonderfully rich story from the gospel of John (the entire ninth chapter). In this Lenten lectionary series we have heard stories of Jesus interacting with people and their faith growth. This story was of the man born blind.  

Enjoy the sermon!

We are all blind to something.  And often it is not until someone else opens our eyes that we realize that we were ever blind to begin with. 

In today’s gospel the Pharisees are the ones who are blind.  They are so wrapped up in their own religious authority and what they expect and the ways things are done and should be done that they weren’t able to see that the messiah was right in front of them. 

They aren’t really upset that Jesus healed the man or even that Jesus broke the rules about healing and working on the Sabbath.  They are upset because things had changed.  Oh change that horrible word, that word that makes people cringe in fear because it means getting out of a comfort zone and getting away from “the way we have always done things” or “the way things used to be.”  Change is great if you are the one implementing it; but if it happens to you, change is bad. 

The Pharisees are upset because Jesus changed things.  The man who was always blind is no longer blind and Jesus healed on the Sabbath, something they had never done before.  And with this change in the ways things have always been done, they could see only the bad things it would mean for them.  They were blind to all the good this change would mean for them. 

To them this change meant that their power would erode, that they would not longer be the religious authorities.  They could not see that Jesus would be able to also heal them, to make them whole, to forgive their sins; that Jesus came to be the light of the whole world, including the light to the Pharisees. 

They were blind and they were unwilling to allow Jesus to open their eyes to see what God was doing right in front of them.

And sometimes we too are blind.  We want things to stay the same, we want things to be the way they always have been and we are unable to see what God is doing right in front of us.  We are blind to the gifts that God has given us.  The gifts to do God’s ministry in this world, the gifts for this small congregation to be a healthy thriving congregation that preaches God’s grace to this world that sometimes so desperately needs it. 

We have made ourselves blind to the fact that we are the Pharisees, we are the religious authorities, who want to keep things the way that they are because we are comfortable with how things are.  We have made ourselves blind to the fact that we are the Pharisees, we are the religious authorities, who want to obey the rules that were written for generations ago and not realize that the world has changed and so to have the rules.  We have made ourselves blind to the fact that we are the Pharisees, we are the religious authorities, who want to live in the past, the way things were and therefore unable to see God’s grace and miracles that happen right in front of us. 

But Jesus has opened our eyes!  Jesus has changed us.  We have become new creatures because of God’s amazing grace.  We have become people gifted with amazing talents, sometimes which are kept hidden from even ourselves, that are able to do amazing things in this world. 

And when Jesus is the one who changes us, we change for the better.  When we let God take some of the control in our lives, the change that is brought to us is only good. 

Yes we might want to focus on the things that seem bad, that we have less control, less power, but it is because there are more people sharing in the leadership of doing God’s ministry.  Or we might want to focus on that fact that worship or the congregation is different now that it was 50, 10 or even 2 years ago, and we fail to realize that we are able to worship God in many and various ways and through this change we see God not just in here, in worship, but out there in our daily lives. 

When God is the one who changes us it is only good for it allows us to see in areas that we were once so blind.  
When God is the one who changes us it is only good for we are able to grow in faith, love and grace.
When God is the one who changes us it is only good for we are able to see, hear and feel how the Holy Spirit is working in us
When God is the one who changes us it is only good for Jesus is the one who has opened our eyes.

How is God changing you?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

New and Old Friends

On Wednesday I had a very low key day, but in the afternoon I let the dogs out at the same time that our neighbor, who is also a parishioner, was getting his mail.  When ended up having a brief conversation about him as a teacher and the church.  It was just a nice brief conversation of talking about vocation, with out actually talking about vocation.

Thursday was awesome!  I went to a social media and ministry workshop hosted by Pastor Keith Anderson which was a great conversation on how to better use social media with congregations.  And afterwards I met up with a friend that I worked at camp with in 2001 & 2002.  We ended up talking for over 6 hours, reminiscening  about camp, getting caught up on life, and talking about all sort of other things.  It was such a great time to catch up with someone.  Oh and how did we find out that we are both now living in New England when we worked at a camp in Wisconsin?  Facebook!  Social media has really allowed us to connect with one another better and I believe that is God working in the world.

Friday was thankfully a day off (mostly) but really not a great day.  Snow on April 1st. Grr, drove to Danbury to get stuff at the pet store to be given horrible customer service and left without anything double grr.  Snow turned to rain, Bob and I got annoyed with each other.  But Bob and I ended up having a great conversation in the afternoon about life, about out future, about our frustrations.  God is with us even in frustration days.