Monday, June 27, 2011

MMC: Forth of July Weekend

Good Morning Everyone!  

I hope you are enjoying these beautiful days that God has blessed us with.  

A Few Quick Announcements: 
  • Are you traveling this summer?  Let me know when you will be away either for a weekend across the state or a month across the country, so we can include you in our prayers for safe travel.
  • Starting this coming Sunday we will be collecting travel size toiletries for Americares in Danbury.  Items needed include toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, and mouth wash.
Book of Faith Puzzler:
Last week’s question was: Where does the word “Trinity” appear in the bible?  A) Genesis B) John C) 1 Corinthians D) All of the above E) It doesn’t appear in the bible. The bible never includes the word “Trinity” though multiple times God is depicted in the same passage as three beings and Matthew 28:19 even uses the phrase “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”  The term trinity was first use of the word “trinity” was by Theophilus of Antioch in 170CE.  Congratulations to Nancy B for winning this week's puzzler.

This week’s question: Today’s Old Testament reading is from the prophet Jeremiah.  Which of these is not another book of a prophet?  A) Ruth B)Amos C)Habakkuk D)Isaiah  If you know the answer or willing to look it up, email me by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's puzzler.  

Yesterday's Sermon:
You can read the sermon here, including my mission for us to invite friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc and just mention your faith to them.  and Jesus sent out his disciples to be welcomed by others as they invited others to hear about Jesus. We are sent out to be both welcoming and inviting.  On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate Bethlehem on being a welcoming congregation?  How you would rate Bethlehem on being an inviting congregation?  

Wednesday's Worship
On Wednesday a group will gather for an informal worship at 7pm on the parsonage lawn.  We will hear about the Israelites fleeing Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, talk about what scares us and pray, sing and commune together.  Come early at 6:30pm for dinner.  In case of rain, we will meet in the community room. 

Serving this Sunday:
The following people have signed up to serve this coming Sunday:
Worship Assistant: Ellen G
Reader:Bob MC
Communion Assistant: _________
Ushers: _____________ & ___________
Altar Set up: _______________
Bread baker/bringer: _________
Coffee Hour host: Barbara C
Counter: __________
If you would like to assist in one of the areas that are currently blank, please let me know.  

Sunday's Texts:
Our gospel for this coming Sunday is Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30.  Jesus is upset with people who find fault in both his and John the Baptist's ministries.  He then thanks God that wisdom is not needed for faith.  When have you been upset when someone doesn't do something and when someone does that same thing?  When have you found that the more you think about your faith the weaker you faith becomes?  When do you have to understand something like a child in order to understand it at all?

Hope you all have a great week!  
~Pastor Becca

Welcome and Inviting

Yesterday's gospel text was the very short Matthew 10:40-42 "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."

So obviously I focused on the idea of being welcoming.  But something we don't quite get from this snippet of text is that Jesus is actually sending his disciples out and instead of them being the ones who should be welcoming, they will be welcomed or unwelcomed in different homes and communities as they tell others about Jesus.  

Enjoy!  And you're welcome!

If you were welcoming someone into your home, what would you do, to help them feel invited and accepted? 

Why do you do such things?  What does it feel like to be welcomed?

Many of us have a moment in our lives, or actually multiple of them, that we can look back on and feel in someway un-welcomed.  Sometimes we were truly unwanted.  We walked into a conversation that you obviously were not allowed in on.  Sometimes we were just excluded, unintentionally as the others gathered were old friends catching up, or a tight-knit group that knew their own inside jokes and you were left out of the loop.  Maybe you felt this way at your spouse’s high school reunion.  Sometimes we are neglected as people just assume you belong.  Have you ever been left to wander the halls of some building looking for the restroom? And other times you are so warmly welcomed, and the people too overly friendly that it turns you off because it comes off as fake.  I sometimes feel this way at restaurants when the waiter is just a little too perky and smiley.

We all have at times felt unwelcomed.  At schools, at gatherings, in people’s homes and even in churches.  Maybe I should say, especially at churches.  One problem that churches often have is that the regular worshippers often become too cliquey and forget to not just greet but help and invite new worshippers into the worship experience.  Or they don’t ask the people on the fringes to help out with things or specifically invite them to special events.  And sometimes we rely too much on that one person who is so great at hospitality, that we let them do all the work and forget that it is each of our jobs to welcome people in the name of the Lord.  Now I’m not saying that Bethlehem has these issues, just that they are often pitfalls of many churches, regardless of location, denomination or size. 

But there is one other problem, that I will say that we at Bethlehem, that we as Lutherans, that we as predominately middle-class people, that we as people who live in this weird mix of rural suburbia have – we sit back and wait for people to come to us.  We expect that if we put up a sign, people will come to us and then we will warmly greet them and welcome them.  We expect that if we keep the doors unlocked or even wide open on a day like today, that someone will just wander in and then we will welcome them. We rely too much on being welcoming and not enough on being inviting. 

Granted we do the same things in our personal lives.  We expect that people will invite us to their homes even if we never have invited them to our own.  We expect that people will hold the door for us at the coffee shop, even if we never hold the door for anyone else.  We expect that others will act first and then we can be welcoming. 

Well I hate to break this to you, but Jesus was not telling the disciples to sit back and wait for people to come to them so that then the disciples could welcome them in the name of the Lord.  Instead Jesus was sending the disciples out to various villages and towns to tell others about him.  Just like he tells us today to go and to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. 

And Jesus’s words today are not a commandment for us to stay here and be welcoming in case anyone shows up, but they are more of a command with both a warning and a blessing.  They are a command because we need to go out and tell others about Christ in order to be welcomed by them. 

They are a warning that when we go out and tell others about Jesus, at times we will be unwelcomed.  That people will not welcome us because they do not welcome Jesus or God.  That at times we will not even be offered a cup of water. 

And Jesus’s words are also a blessing, a hope that we will be welcomed, when we go out and tell others about him.  That we will be greeted warmly, that people will come to learn about him through our actions.  And that regardless if we are warmly welcomed with open arms and great joy or if the person refused to give us even a cup of water for our efforts, we are still blessed beloved children of God. 

So now I have a mission for you: go out in the weeks ahead and invite a friend, a co-work, an acquaintance and welcome them in the name of the Lord.  Invite them into your home for dinner or take them out for coffee or ice cream.  And at some point in the conversation, mention your faith or the church.  It doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to be anything more than “I thank God that you are my friend.”  And if they welcome your faith, then invite them to worship with you.  And if they don’t then you are still a blessed, beloved child of God.  And if you choose not to welcome someone, well you are still a blessed, beloved child of God, and we will continue to work together on ways to not just be more welcoming but also more inviting.    

Monday, June 20, 2011

MMC: 1st Week of Summer

Good Morning

Hope you all enjoy this last full day of spring as summer officially arrives tomorrow and as many schools have their last day of classes later this week. 

A few announcements
Summer hiatus has started for many things as Bethlehem but there is still much going on. 
  • Starting this Wednesday will be our midweek informal worship service.  Bring lawn chairs or blankets as we worship on the lawn by hearing bible stories, praying, singing and sharing communion together.  Worship begins at 7pm but come early for dinner at 6:30.  If the weather is bad, we will worship in the community room. 
  • Next Sunday the worship committee will be meeting after worship.  All are invited as we start to plan worship for the fall. 
  • Next Sunday is also the last day to bring in baby and mother items for the Women's Center in Danbury.  Items such as diapers, baby food, feminine hygiene products and baby clothes are greatly appreciated.
Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week’s question was: We celebrate Pentecost as the day the apostles received the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the church, but Pentecost was a Jewish holiday long before Jesus.  What do Jews commemorate on Pentecost?  A) The anniversary of the first bris. B) The harvest C) A day of forgiveness D) The anniversary of God giving the Torah.  Pentecost or Shavu’ot is the celebration of the anniversary of God giving the Jewish people the Torah (or first 5 books of the Old Testament).  Shavu’ot is also called the Festival of Weeks, the Festival of Reaping, and the Day of First Fruits.  Congratulations to Tiina H for winning this week's puzzler. 

This week’s question: Where does the word “Trinity” appear in the bible?  A) Genesis B) John C) 1 Corinthians D) All of the above E) It doesn’t appear in the bible.  If you know the answer, email me by noon Wednesday to be entered into the drawing. 

Yesterday's Sermon
If you would like to read it, the incomplete version is here.  How do you feel able to fulfill the great commission to go out and make disciples by baptizing and teaching?  How do you feel unable to do so?  How can you rely on the rest of the body of Christ to help you in fulfilling our commission? 

Wednesday's Worship
The theme for the Wednesday worships this summer is water, and our first summer worship we will hear about Noah having to learn to trust God in building an ark.  I will be cooking up some hot dogs and veggie burgers for dinner beforehand. 

Serving this Sunday
Worship Assistant: Mark H
Communion Assistant: Lillian J
Ushers: Bob MC & ___________
Altar Set up: _______________
Bread baker/bringer: _________
Coffee Hour host: __________
Counter: __________
If you would like to assist in one of the areas that are currently blank, please let me know. 

Sunday's Text
For the summer months, I am going to focus on just on of the passages for the coming Sunday, most of the time this will be the gospel text.  This week's gospel and focus passage is Matthew 10:40-42 which is short enough to just type out here: Jesus said Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

When is a time that you have felt welcomed?  When have you felt unwelcomed?  How do you try to welcome someone into your home?  How do you react when someone comes to your home that you do not wish to welcome in? (and why is it most of the time those people are religious people who are trying to testify to you?)  How can you welcome people in Christ name?  How have you been received by others in Christ name? 

Hope you all have a great week and hope to see you either on Wednesday or Sunday

Pastor Becca

Sunday, June 19, 2011

An Incomplete Comissioning

My sermon today is incomplete, at least this written form.  As often the case for me I write out the vast majority of my sermon, get stuck writing and then finish it as the Spirit so moves me during the sermon itself.  So below is my incomplete sermon, based on the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16-20.  How did it end?  Well how do you need it to end in order to feel compelled to go fulfill our commission?

I always wonder what exactly the disciples were thinking during those moments when Jesus performed miracles in front of them or told them various parables or gave them specific instructions such as your gospel today.  And in today’s gospel, I picture the disciples having a “Wait, you want us to do what now?” type of moment.

Jesus just died a few days prior and now they had heard stories from the women in their group that he was now alive again, but they had to leave Jerusalem, go to Galilee, and to a mountain, in order to see him.  We are told that they 11 disciples worshipped him but some had their doubts.  Was this really him?  How could he be alive again? How did he beat them to Galilee?  Did he really die? 

But then he tells that it is now their responsibility to go out and make disciples.  Thus far, for about three years they have followed Jesus and Jesus has made disciples.  It was Jesus who spoke, it was Jesus who performed miracles, it was Jesus who people came to believe in.  And now Jesus was leaving them and now it was their job to go and tell others about Jesus. 

They had done that before, gone out and told others about Jesus.  Some of the disciples invited their friends to join them who then became disciples.  Jesus had send 70 out in groups of two to different towns and villages to prepare his way.  But in each case, they were inviting the people to come and see Jesus, to come and hear what this other person, Jesus, has to say, and that is so much easier than actually having to make disciples by baptizing and teaching yourself.

Isn’t it easier to tell others something like “Hey check out_____” this band, this play, this event, this speaker, even this church than it is to be in the band, a actor in the play, an organizer of an event, the keynote speaker or the preacher of a church yourself?  Isn’t easier to tell someone “oh you have to meet my friend” than it is to make a new friend yourself?

They had followed Jesus for three years and I imagine these disciples quaking in fear as Jesus tells them it is now their job, their responsibility to go out, alone, without him, and tell others about him.  They will no longer be able to say to someone, “why don’t you come check out what my friend Jesus has to say” but instead they actually have to be the one who is able to preach themselves about Jesus being the Son of God, the savior of the world.  They themselves now need to be the ones who can teach others about God’s grace and love.  They themselves now need to be the ones who baptize others in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  They themselves now need to be the ones who go out making disciples of all nations.  It is no longer solely Jesus’ duty but now it is their own. 

And this is now our job, our duty, our responsibility as well.  It is our job to go out and tell others about Jesus.  It is our duty as Christians to continue to make disciples of all nations.  It is our responsibility to baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  It is our mission to teach others about Christ so that they too may obey his words. 

Is anyone afraid yet?  Do any of you feel like you are able to fully fulfill this task?  Do any of you feel like you can accurately answer all questions that people might have about faith?  Does any of you feel like you are completely able to make disciples by baptizing and teaching?  I, myself, don’t feel like I can all these things.

Just the other week as we had our Christian Education meeting, someone raised concerns they had about teaching fellow adults because they might not be able to answer all their questions.  People have expressed to me that they have a sense of failure because they do not know the bible as well as they feel they should, so how then can they tell others about it.  Others have mentioned to me doubts in their own faith lives that lead them to question their ability to call themselves a believer, a member of the body of Christ.

But that is the good news.  Jesus told all the disciples, both those who worshipped him and those who doubted, that they are to go out and make disciples.  And Jesus also told them that he is with them.  Jesus will be with them as they go out to make disciples, baptizing and teaching.

Jesus is with us as we tell others about Christ.  Jesus is with us as we teach others about Christ.  Jesus is with us as we baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is with us as we stutter trying to find the right words to talk about our faith.  Jesus is with us as we falter trying to invite someone to join us in worship.  Jesus is with us as we hesitate and wane in answer a question about faith.  Jesus is with us. 

And Jesus is with us as a community.  We don’t have to do it alone.  We each are given different spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit that allow us tell others about Jesus, about God and about our faith in different ways. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Adventures in Childhood

This past week my parents have been in town visiting and it has been a BUSY week of playing tourist.

They came into town last Thursday and we spent sometime in New Canaan and Darien going around to various shops.  Friday Bob and I took them to Mystic Seaport to explore the 19th century seaport village and we learned about boat making, the American naval history and tattoos (odd combination I know but one of the exhibits was about navy tattoos).

Saturday was a work day for Bob and I as he had to get stuff done for the homeless shelter and I had to prepare for Sunday.  But my dad kept himself busy by making 72 or so cinnamon rolls for Bethlehem to sell the next day at Georgetown Day.

After a FANTASTIC Pentecost worship service on Sunday morning which included the baptisms of two of our elementary age kids, most of the people of Bethlehem (including myself and my parents) spent all or at least part of the day at at Georgetown Day, the local neighborhood festival that grows each year.  This was my 3rd year participating and I enjoy it more and more each year.  Bethlehem has a bakesale booth with various bread, desserts and drinks for sale with the money going to Connecticut Food Bank.  I got to spend the day talking to folks, going around to the other booths and even danced a little with Bob to some of the great bands.

Monday was another workday for me, but I sent my parents off with the car and they pretty much ended up at the mall.  Oh well.

Tuesday we went to the Harriet Beecher Stowe House and the Mark Twain House both in Hartford, actually right next to each other as they were neighbors.  One of the good things about having family visit is the visit become a catalyst to go see some tourist things that you haven't seen yet and these two places were on that list.

Wednesday was back to Mystic Seaport, as we didn't get to see everything in one day, but we were only there in the morning.  The afternoon we spent at the shops at Olde Mystic Village and the evening we spent checking out all three locations of the Book Barn in Niantic.  Seriously if you haven't been here and you live anywhere near Connecticut you need to check this place out.  It is a used book store that is so large it has three locations but the original location is on a converted barn with plenty of cats wandering about, some goats to pet and various sheds that house books based on genre.  It is a book lovers dream.

Thursday Bob was able to take the day off and the four of us traveled to another place Bob and I have been meaning to get to and just haven't yet, Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge Mass.  I think we all like this place more than Mystic mainly because the staff dress in period costumes for the 1830's and work as farmers, blacksmiths, mill operators, etc and they are extremely knowledgeable and will answer questions about their craft and the time period.  I even learned how to tell if an egg is good by placing it in water. But caution, when we got there, a bunch of field trip groups were around and it was mass chaos. And as my Facebook status says from that day "Being somewhere with a bunch of 4th graders on a field trip = birth control."

Friday was Bob's and my 5th wedding anniversary.  We had a quiet morning and Bob gave me a wonderful gift of a little booklet of 5 love songs or poems that he translated from Akkadian with a little note about why he picked that poem for me.  He puts my gift of a little wall hanging cross to shame.

The afternoon we went to Barker's Comic and Collectible Museum, a place Bob and I went shortly after we first moved to Connecticut and have been meaning to get to with my parents in their two previous trips to CT and haven't been able to.  The place is crazy packed with a massive collections of lunch boxes, dolls, figurines, and just about anything else based on a cartoon or comic strip, plus more.

We then had dinner at Miya Sushi in New Haven.  That place was SOOOOOO good!  They have the largest selection of vegetarian sushi on the east coast and I FINALLY got to have vegetarian sushi that was more than a cucumber roll.  Bob and I split an appetizer of a steamed artichoke with an avocado sauce, and three rolls, one of which was called the Land of Milk and Honey and had dates, figs, brie, goat cheese, and cinnamon.

Today is another work day as I have been getting stuff done for tomorrow and catching up on work stuff that I have pushed off from earlier in this week.  And Bob is writing his newsletter.  Meanwhile my parents went to the Railway Museum in Danbury.

My parents leave on Tuesday morning, so I'm sure I'll have a few more adventures with them between now and then, but for now a time to rest.

Monday, June 13, 2011

MMC: Holy Trinity

Good Morning Bethlehem

Thank you to everyone who made yesterday such a wonderful day!  Especially thank you to all who helped with Georgetown Day, setting up, manning the booth, cleaning up and all you bakers.  And Congratulations to the C family on Adian's and Dylan's baptisms, I hope you were able to celebrate with your family on such a special occasion. 

A few quick announcements
  • Council is meeting tonight at 7:30.  Everyone is invited to join the meeting as we discuss the business side of the congregation.
  • Next Sunday we will be receiving new members as Noel, Liza, Aidan & Dylan C. and Barbara and Nina C. will officially be joining the congregation.  Please join us in welcoming our new members and afterwards honoring our dads with a special coffee hour of pretzels, hot dogs and beer (both the root and alcoholic varieties)
  • Midweek summer worships will begin on Wednesday June 22.  6:30pm we will gather for dinner with worship beginning at 7pm. 
Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week’s  question wasThe National Council of Churches is an ecumenical group working towards Christian unity and cooperation.  How many different denominations are members of the NCC? A)2  B)37 C)250 D)1000
According to the NCC website ( there are 37 different denominations that are affiliated with their organization. Since no one answered the puzzler, I bought myself a treat at Georgetown Day yesterday. 

This week’s question: We celebrate Pentecost as the day the apostles received the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the church, but Pentecost was a Jewish holiday long before Jesus.  What do Jews commemorate on Pentecost?  A) The anniversary of the first bris. B) The harvest C) A day of forgiveness D) The anniversary of God giving the Torah.  If you know the answer, or willing to google it, email me by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing. 

Yesterday's worship 
Did you feel the Holy Spirit's presence in worship yesterday?  I sure did!  Here is the sermon if you would like to read it.  When has the Holy Spirit caused you problems?  When have you felt free to risk failure in order to attempt to solve a problem of this world?

Assisting on Sunday
Below are the people who signed up to serve as worship leaders in the following ways:
Worship Assistant: Ellen G
Reader: Ellen G
Communion Assistant: Cheryl M
Ushers: _________ & _________
Bread bringer/baker: _________
Offering Counter: ___________
Altar set up & clean up: ___________
Coffee Hour Host: M. et al
If you would like to serve in any of the ways that are currently blank, please let me know.

This Sunday's Readings
Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday, a day when the church celebrates the three aspects of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In general, how do you feel the three are different?  How are they the same?

The first reading is Genesis 1:1-2:4a, the creation story.  The plural is used starting in verse 26 as God said "Let us"  What does it mean that God used the plural pronoun?  Who all is God? How is God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all involved in creation?

The second reading is 2 Corinthians 13:11-13.  Verse 13 "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all." is used as a farewell greeting by Paul but in worship it is used as the opening greeting.  How does invoking the Trinity help in both saying hello and goodbye?  Does this verse have special meaning or memories to you as it is one that is so familiar from worship?

The gospel is Matthew 28:16-20.  Jesus commands his disciples to go, make disciples, by baptizing and teaching.  How are we as a congregation making disciples?  How are you continuing to fulfill your baptismal calling and continuing to learn?  

Have a blessed week!  
Pastor Becca

Watch Out for that Holy Spirit

For Pentecost, we read Acts 2:1-21 as the primary reading and after the list of places that the crowd was from we add additional languages that people speak in our congregation and listen to John 3:16 in each language.  So we had John 3:16 read English, Akkadian, German, Japanese, Finnish, Portuguese, Swedish, Spanish, Sumerian, Russian and French individually before hearing them all spoken together, which is just awesome to hear.  

Yesterday was also the baptism of two brothers, Aidan and Dylan, which made for a great celebration for both the family and the congregation.  And a celebration of the church as Pentecost is the birthday of the church.  

However, the more I preach, the more comfortable I get with completely  not relying on my manuscript and preaching more extemporaneously.  Yesterday especially was one of those days.  So below is the sermon I wrote.  It is similar to the one I preached but not quite the same. 


I read a wonderful quote this week “The Holy Spirit doesn’t come to solve our problems but to create them.” 

That may seem backward to many of us but think about it.  In our reading from Acts today, Peter and the other disciples were hanging out, waiting as Jesus had instructed for the promise from God the Father.  It had already been 10 days.  10 days of prayer and picking a new apostle to replace Judas and thus far there had been no signs from God.  You have to think how much longer they would have waited around for this sign from God.  Maybe a few more days, maybe even a few months or a year.  But slowly, without the Holy Spirit, the group would have dispersed.  The apostles would have returned safely back to their own homes, to their own lives.  And as they grew older, as they became fathers and grandfathers, they would have talked about those crazy three years when they followed that preacher from Nazareth.  And they would have lived to old age as fishermen, and tax collectors.

But instead the Holy Spirit came to them and in doing so caused the first bit of trouble.  People thought they were drunk, though it was only 9 o clock in the morning, because they were speaking, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, in languages that were not their own.  And then the Holy Spirit sends them out, out from Jerusalem, from this city where they had gathered for 50 days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, into the wilderness.  They didn’t go into the wilderness as we think about it, into the woods or dessert but to places far and wide to proclaim Jesus.  They traveled throughout the Middle East, to south east Europe, to Rome, to places as far as India.  And wherever they went they did tell others about those crazy three years as they followed that preacher from Nazareth who they knew to be the Lord and Savior, the one sent by God to save all humans from our sins. 

And of course this calling by the Holy Spirit became their problem.  All but one of these 12 apostles were martyred, often in gruesome ways.  And so the Holy Spirit did not come to make the apostles lives easy, to immediately take them up to heaven, to end any frustration they may have.  Instead because of the Holy Spirit, these 12 men, and many others were killed because they told others because of Jesus.

And our lives are not made easier because of the Holy Spirit.  Because of the Holy Spirit we are called to go out into this world to tell others about Christ through our words and deeds.  Because of the Holy Spirit we are called to do crazy things like give up a portion of our income so that the poor may be fed, clothed, and cared for.  Because of the Holy Spirit, we are called to do crazy things like preach a sermon even though we are only 15.  Because of the Holy Spirit, we are called to do crazy things like give up sleeping in on a Sunday, in order to build a community with people we might not otherwise know, or even otherwise like, as we worship God together.  Because of the Holy Spirit, we do things like tell others about how we have seen God.  Because of the Holy Spirit, we do things like risk financial security as a congregation to call some 20 something year old, in-experienced pastor in order to hope that in the long run, God’s love might be more fully proclaimed to more people. 

And just because the Holy Spirit is with us, doesn’t mean that these problems that are created are free of failure.  We as humans are going to fail.  We will fail as children to our parents.  Aidan, Dylan, I am sure you have never done something your parents have told you not to do?  We will fail as parents.  We will fail as spouses, as employees and employers.  We will even fail as children of God. 

Today Aidan and Dylan will be marked with the cross of Christ as they are baptized into the Lord’s family.  But they, like everyone else in this room will at times fail as God’s children.  They will question their faith, just like all of us have.  They will doubt, just like all of us have.  They will sin against God, against others and as brothers against each other. 

But when we fail, the Holy Spirit forgives us.  Because the Holy Spirit invites us to fail.  The Holy Spirit invites to try new things, to look outside ourselves for problems in this world, to find new ways to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord through our words and deeds.  And occasionally that means failure.  Occasionally we will do wrong, sometimes intentionally, sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes we won’t even realize that we have failed. 

But after we have failed, the Spirit invites us to innovate, invent, and then fail yet again.  But we need not worry about failure, because our failures have been drown in the waters of baptism.  Our failures have washed clean from us.  There is no need to worry about failure as long as we don’t keep failing the same way over and over. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Two years? Really?

This past weekend at Synod Assembly, I was reminded that this week is the two year anniversary of my call vote.  And in fact that is today.

Seriously how has it been two years already?

Two years ago today I was nervous about my call vote because well it is a call vote, but also confident that things would go smoothly.  I was in a unusual situation of already having preached at Bethlehem 3 times, including just a few weeks prior so I was familiar with worship, had met many members and had just spend the weekend at assembly with the president of the congregation and the chair of the call committee.

I remember Victor, a then spouse of a member and now full member and council vice-president, sneaking out at the beginning of my sermon to take his son to a baseball game and him giving me a thumbs up.  And I remember waiting in the teeny tiny pastor's office with Bob while the vote occur and being lead back into the sanctuary to be told that the vote was unanimous.

And now a lot has changed in two years.

My office is still teeny tiny, but there are plans to move the church office downstairs and give me the whole upstairs office space.

Worship attendance has increased dramatically.  I can't tell you the number of times I have heard "I never used to see so and so but now they are in worship every week."  And membership has grown with 21 new members since I have started.

There is a huge sense of the Spirit at Bethlehem.  People witnessing to one another at the beginning of worship with how they have seen God in the past week.  Council and other meetings are full of energy and excitement as we discuss new ways of doing ministry by reaching out to the greater community and making worship and faith formation more meaningful.  (Granted this was also the mindset that I walked into at council, where I have never felt the need to cry in frustration after but often cry from laughter).

New leaders are emerging, youth stepping up to lead worship on a regular basis, and new members seamlessly taking on roles on committees.

Not everything has been a success.  I struggle to find ways to get people involved in bible study.  I had a meltdown the week after Easter when multiple volunteers and worship leaders canceled last minute.  Some sermons have flopped, some ideas have gone no where, sometimes joys turn into frustration.

But fortunately I have many, many more joys than frustrations.  I see excitement in people's lives as they connect more to God and the church.  I have laugh with the people of Bethlehem.  I have celebrated with them.  I have cried with them.  I have eaten with them. I have drunk with them. I have worshiped with them. I have prayed for and with them.  And I have even at times argued with them.  And I hope to be able to still do so for much longer as the Spirit is working through this wonderful congregation to which I have been called.

Monday, June 6, 2011

MMC: Pentecost is Coming

Good Morning Bethlehem,

Yesterday's worship
So going a little out of order than normal, I heard that worship yesterday was wonderful and once I'm done writing this email, I'll watch the recording that Becky P. made.  I have heard only fantastic things about Ryan's sermon, Tori's leadership and Anna, Dylan, Emma, Nini, and Rebecca taking over worship yesterday.  As I was at synod assembly, I asked many colleagues what they were doing for worship on Sunday, often a supply preacher or a lay adult was in charge (and they were often reading the sermon that the bishop prepared).  I can't tell you how proud I was of this awesome congregation to tell people that youth were not just leading worship at Bethlehem but preaching and that the adults would be full of grace as these youth grow into their roles as leaders of this church.  So what did you think?  How did it go? Have I pastored myself out of a job?  If you want to read Ryan's sermon, you can do so here (the video to come later).

A Few Announcements
  • Tonight at 7pm a group will be meeting to discuss Christian Education at Bethlehem next year; if you are interested in discussing how out congregation can teach the bible and theology better to children, youth and adults, please join us. 
  • Senior Lunch is this Wednesday at noon, we will be meeting at the Putnam House in Bethel.  
  • This Sunday is a very busy day!  We will celebrate Pentecost with languages, red, flowers, balloons and the baptisms of Aidan and Dylan C. during the 10am worship.  Please let me know if you are willing to read John 3:16 in a language other than English.
  • After worship on Sunday, June 12, head down to Georgetown Day to support our coffee hour booth.  Please contact Cheryl M. to volunteer to serve, set up, clean up or to bake goodies.
  • The next council meeting is Monday June 13 at 7:30pm
  • Sunday June 19 we will be celebrating the Holy Trinity, new members and dads.  Join us in welcoming the C. and C families and having a special coffee hour of pretzels, hot dogs and beers (both alcoholic and root varieties) as we honor our dads.
Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week’s  question wasIn Sunday’s gospel, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Advocate.  Which is not another name for the Holy Spirit? A) Spirit of Understanding, B) the Counselor C) Breath of God, D) Wave of God
Isaiah 11:2 uses the phrase “Spirit of Understanding.”  John 14:2615:26 & 16:7 all refer to the Holy Spirit as the Counselor.  Job 33:4 calls the Holy Spirit the Breath of God.  As far as Pastor Becca knows, the Holy Spirit is never referred to as the Wave of God.  Congratulations to Nancy B. for winning this week's puzzler.

This week’s question: The National Council of Churches is an ecumenical group working towards Christian unity and cooperation.  How many different denominations are members of the NCC? A)2  B)37 C)250 D)1000  If you know the answer or willing to google it, email me by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.  And the winner this week will get some delicious cinnamon rolls that my dad and I will be making this coming weekend in preparation for Georgetown Day.

Assisting this Sunday
Below are the people who signed up to serve as worship leaders in the following ways:
Worship Assistant: Mark H
Reader ______
Communion Assistant: Anna H
Ushers: _________ & _________
Bread bringer/baker: Regina B
Offering Counter: ___________
Altar set up & clean up: ___________
Coffee Hour Host: Mark H and Heloisa P
If you would like to serve in any of the ways that are currently blank, please let me know.

This Sunday's Readings
This coming Sunday, for Pentecost, the heart of worship is the story from Acts 2:1-21, when the apostles received the Holy Spirit.  What do you think it was like for the apostles to have a tongue of fire rest on them and to speak in other languages?  Have you ever felt suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit?  What was it like?  We celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of the church, how does this seem like the start of the church?  How do we as a church continue to age gracefully and yet grow and be excited about each birthday as if we are a young child?

Have a blessed week!
Pastor Becca

A Preacher in the Making

This weekend was the New England Synod Assembly, the annual gathering of clergy and lay leaders from throughout the synod to do the business of the synod, hear about what the Spirit is doing throughout the region and learn from each other.  This year, for the first time, the assembly was held on Friday through Sunday instead of Thursday to Saturday to allow more youth and working adults to attend (in previous years there has been a largely disproportionate amount of retired people present).  But having Assembly on a Sunday meant that pastors, including myself, would not be at their congregations to preach and preside.  So what to do?

A few months ago, the synod office gave congregations a variety of options to choose from in figuring out how and what to do for worship on the Sunday of synod assembly.  I gave this list to the worship committee who wanted to have a lay preacher and to extend the celebration of communion from the previous week.  Wonderful!  But then the people who would normally fulfill such a role, my regular worship assistants, were all going to be away on vacation or at reunions or wherever this weekend.  So then we decided to have a Youth Sunday and one high school student was suppose to go to assembly with me but the other (yes there are only two at Bethlehem) would be wonderful leading worship.  Well the one going to Assembly, Ryan, was no longer able to go and volunteered to not just help lead worship but to actually write his own sermon!!! (This makes this pastor want to jump for joy every time I think about it)

So below is Ryan's sermon, at least the written portion, he also has a video and I'll working on getting that up shortly but I'm not completely technically savvy.  The sermon was based on the week's gospel, John 17:1-11.

Enjoy, and let me know do we have a preacher in the making? 
In today’s Gospel we heard of Jesus’ last night and him asking that those who continue his work in this world will live in unity. But, ironically enough most Christians have not done his word because there is Hundrends of denominations  among 20 branches of Christianity. That is not Unity! But , even though we fail to follow this we still spread his word from generation to generation. How are we still able to spread his word?
Even though the bible and it’s stories of redemption, forgiveness, and the power of being a believer to this very Sunday those same aspects still are part of our every-day life, Especially, the sinful nature of all humans on earth, we need the Lords forgiveness for our mistakes and what we have failed to do. With his forgivness we can see that it is real and that we as Baptized christens see it as our job to spread his word . Christians today we do understand that there is division among us, Christians and the world. As Jesus said “ so that they may be one, as we are one.” this is still shown today. As I see it Christian or not us as humanity are ONE, but our jobs are still the same, continue his work, my work, her work, his work , our work to spread the knowing of his work that he started for us to continue until he comes again.
His disciples in the gospel were prayed for, by Jesus that they will spread his word the way he had. With the disciples accepting, this shows that they are willing to have Jesus’ forgiveness and that Jesus is for real. With this acceptance to forgiveness this shows that Jesus intercedes for his disciples.
This is showed still to this day by Jesus Interceding of all of Humanity even the ones who don’t believe, he still loves us. We are still able to spread his word because we are forgiven. Jesus still comforts us by forgiving our burdening sins, and interceding humanity. Now how is this alive in Life today?

(after video)

This showed that faith can be such a powerful aspect in our everyday life. I am sure the professor was forgiven by God. With gods open arms to comfort our everyday sins and forgive us for our trespasses and for what we have failed to do. We say Amen.