Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How to Survive in an Un-Air Conditioned Church

The Lutheran Handbook, a witty little guide about all things Lutheran, has a sectioned entitled "How to Survive for One Hour in an Un-Air-Conditioned Church" and it must be an important item because it is very near the beginning on page 18.  Well this last Sunday was a day that those tips would have come in handy.  The official high temperature for Sunday was 86 degrees, and I think it hit that high before 11 as rain came through in the afternoon.  This was also after two day of high 90's if not 100 degree, so it was just warm.

And since I knew we in Connecticut were not alone in this heat wave as it was almost nation-wide, I posted the following on the ELCA Clergy group on Facebook:
Today is one of those Sundays that as a pastor in an un-air conditioned church building I ask myself what is the least amount of clothing I can wear and still be socially acceptable. Blessings to you all that find yourself in this situation - may you not pass out during your own sermon.

Boy, did that start a flurry of comments - people commisserating on the heat, tips on how to stay cool while wearing albs (robes), a debate on if you should wear them or not, stories of people who have passed out while leading worship, another discussion about whether it is appropriate to shorten hymns or lessons on account of the heat, and tips on how to get churches to invest in air conditioning.

Well last November I wrote a post entitled "What I Don't Wear to Work," in that post I talk about how I don't wear clerics during the typical week other than on Sundays or other worship occasions. Well I have to say that summer and heat trumps clerics any day.  

After posting the above on Facebook, I went to my closet and found a nice sundress that is not completely casual  (I actually wore to my sister's wedding and my seminary graduation), then went to the church to open every window and door and turn on every fan.  And I was still hot! I can't imagine how much warmer I would have been with something tight around my neck (I've never been a fan of high neck t-shirts or turtle necks for that matter). 

And this isn't the first time I have worn a dress to worship instead of clerics.  The first time was Easter.  It was the end of April, it was a beautiful day and between being a tomboy who hated dresses from the age of 8 to 25, plus living in Minnesota/Wisconsin where it is always too cold to wear a dress on Easter, and then being in seminary or a pastor I have not worn a dress on Easter since well I was probably 8 and damn it, I was going to wear an Easter dress!  During worship I wore an alb and stole over the dress but before worship during the pancake breakfast and afterwards when the Easter Bunny came for a visit, many people complimented me on the dress and that I looked nice and springy.  

Since then I have worn a dress instead of clerics a few other times to worship, and no one at Bethlehem has ever said a word about me not dressing professionally.  And while the dresses have helped me survive in an un-air-conditioned church, I also feel that they have helped me realize that I am just a fellow worshiper in the Body of Christ, one that is just as effected by heat as every other member of this body. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

MMC: Last week of July

Good Morning Bethlehem!

I hope you are taking advantage of our cooler weather today but doing all the things outside you wouldn't dare venture to do this past weekend.  

A few quick announcements
  • Next week after worship a group from Bethlehem will be going to the Connecticut Wine Fest at the Goshen Fairgrounds.  Tickets are available at the gate for $25 an adult or $10 for under 21 or DD
  • The date of the outdoor worship & picnic has been changed!! Join us AUGUST 14 for worship on the lawn and a picnic.  Bring a side dish or dessert to share, hot dogs, hamburgers and veggies burgers will be provided.
Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week’s  question was: In the bible the first time people try to know the difference between wheat and weeds (good & evil) is A) the first sin B) Noah after the flood C)Abraham sacrificing Isaac D)The receiving of the 10 commandments In Genesis 3, the first people, Adam and Eve, ate from the tree in the center of the garden so that they may know good from evil.  Since the very beginning people have been trying to know the differences between what is good and what is evil.

This week’s question: Sunday's gospel consists of 5 parables, which of the following is not another parable that Jesus told?  A) The houses on rock and sand, B) the lost coin C) the wise baker D) the ten talents. If you know the answer or willing to look it up, let me know by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.

Yesterday's Sermon
If you missed it you can read it here.  Finish this sentence:  The kingdom of heaven is like _________.  How does having your own parable help you better understand heaven and your faith?  How does having your own parable help you talk to other about your faith?

Wednesday's worship
This coming Wednesday we will hear about Jesus calming the storm and talk about having peace and being still in our lives.  Worship begins at 7 but come early at 6:30 for dinner. 

Serving this Sunday
The following people have signed up to serving in worship for this coming Sunday, July 31
Worship Assistant: Ellen G
Reader: ______________
Communion Assistant: _________
Ushers: Bob MC & _______
Communion set up & clean up ________
Bread baker/bringer________
Offering counter:_________
Coffee Hour Host:_________

If you would like to serve in a way that is currently blank, please let me know.
Also there is a new worship leaders sign up sheet in the community room that goes through October.  Please sign up to serve however you feel gifted and called to do so.

This Sunday's Gospel
The gospel for this coming Sunday is Matthew 14:13-21.  We take a break from the parables to hear about Jesus feeding 5000 men, plus women and children.  What is the most extravagant meal you have ever had?  How many people ate with you?  When have you ate with a lot of people, a hundred or more? What is it like to eat with so many people?  Have you ever been part of an unexpected feast?

Hope you all have a great (and cooler) week!
~Pastor Becca

The Kingdom of Heaven is Like...

I did something a little different on Sunday, the gospel was read during the sermon.  I wanted to start by asking people what they would compare heaven to, but I didn't want them to flip ahead in order to find the "right" answer as in what the gospel said.  So I asked my question first, got a few answer - clouds, a field of daisies, the ocean - and then I read the gospel, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52.  


What would you compare heaven to?  Is it something small like a pebble or a grain of sand?  Or is even smaller, microscopic like a cell or an atom?  Maybe you would compare heaven to something big like an elephant or a house, or even bigger like the whole earth or the universe?  Maybe heaven is like something that is priceless, the Hope Diamond or a Picasso painting.  Maybe heaven is like something ordinary, a comfortable old t-shirt or a blade of grass.  Maybe heaven is like something we completely understand like how a car operates.  Or maybe heaven is like something you don’t understand at all and just rely on, like quantum mechanics.  What would you compare heaven to? 

Jesus compares heaven to five things in our gospel today, five entirely unrelated things: a mustard seed that someone sowed, yeast that a woman mixed with flour to make bread, treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great value and a net full of fish.  And yet none of these parables really help us truly understand heaven.  They all just give us little glimpses at what heaven is like but in no way does it tell the entire story. 

And for us modern listeners they are even harder to figure out the meaning.  Most of us have never sown a mustard seed or seen a mustard bush.  Few of us work with yeast or know what a measure of flour is (by the way a measure is about 20 pounds of flour, so the woman was making A LOT of bread).  We don’t understand why there would a treasure buried in a field.  And if we go fishing it is most likely with a pole not a net.  The only one of these examples about heaven we get is the pearl, but even then we don’t realize that in Jesus’ day pearls were sometimes more valuable than gold. 

But Jesus was speaking to his followers in the year 30 not the year 2011.  So maybe we can find a few more modern examples. 

If Jesus was speaking to us today maybe he would say that heaven is like a small netbook computer.  On its own it has some value, but when connected to the internet it is part of a powerful network that can expand mind with more knowledge than you can imagine and connect you to people throughout the world.

Or heaven is like a person who was flipping through the channels on a television and came across a movie that was so inspiring that it changed her life.

Or heaven is like a classic car collector when finding a 1961 Ferrari GT in mint condition sold all that he had in order to buy that car. 

Or heaven is like walking into an air conditioned building on a hot humid summer day. 

Whatever it is that Jesus compared to heaven, you know for us modern listeners he would not use a seed, yeast, a buried treasure, a pearl and a net.  Jesus would use the things that are familiar to us, television, computers, cell phones, air conditioners, books, artwork, planes, trains and automobiles. 

Yes Jesus was giving his listeners a glimpse into what heaven is like by comparing it to everyday objects.  Jesus was opening up new ways for the people of his day to understand the scriptures, to understand God’s word.  And scripture is still being opened to us. 

We believe in a living word, one that is not stagnate, one that is as true for us today as it was for the original hearers two thousand or more years ago.   God’s word, God’s love is constantly being transformed in our lives. 

This is why I asked you what you would compare heaven to before we heard today’s gospel, so that you have your own example, your own parable for the kingdom of heaven.  And you are able to have your own parable because scripture is constantly being made new. 

Jesus finishes these five parables that we heard today, which are actually part of series of seven parables that we have heard over the last few weeks by one last parable.  Only this last parable doesn’t compare the kingdom of heaven to something but scribes who have been trained for the kingdom of heaven.  And he says that a scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a household who takes out of his treasure what is new and what is old.

When you are showing off a collection that you have, normally people show off one of their oldest items, one that they have had the longest amount of time or one of the first items that has great meaning to them, and they also show off one of the newest items, one of the most recent additions to the collection.  So we as scribes who have been trained for the kingdom of heaven are to use both old scripture, the bible, and the new living word, what that means for us in our lives today. 

It is wonderful if you can someone all about why a mustard seed is like heaven in this parable or all the interesting facts about a woman making sixty pounds of bread at once, but if you can’t relate that to your life today, you are not talking about faith but about biblical studies.  Biblical studies along does not produce faith in others, but being able to understand and explain to others why it pertains to your life today, that builds faith both in yourself and others. 

We are surrounded by heaven, both literally and figuratively.  Heaven is in seeds, and yeast, and buried treasure and pearls and nets and heaven is in television, and computers, and cell phones, and air conditioners, and books, and artwork, and planes, trains and automobiles.  Heaven is here with people that we love, heaven is here with friends and family and fellow believers in Christ.  And all those things can be examples, parables, of how to explain heaven to others. Heaven is in finding new ways of interpreting old scriptures.  Heaven is in finding new examples, new ways, of explaining to others about faith in terms they can relate to.  

Monday, July 18, 2011

MMC: Many parables.

Good Morning Bethlehem

I hope you all have your fans and air conditioners ready to go this week!  But if you need a place to keep cool, the church basement is always a comfortable place to hang out in the heat. 

A few quick announcements
  • Sunday July 31 Bethlehem will be going to the Connecticut Wine Festival.  Advance tickets are on sale through this coming Sunday at  Tickets are also available at the door for $25 or $10 for DD/under 21. 
  • August 7 will be the annual outdoor worship and picnic.  Please bring a side dish or dessert to share, hot dogs & hamburgers will be provided.
  • Throughout July & August the giving basket is collecting toiletries - shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, soap, etc.  All sizes are needed but travel sizes are especially helpful. 
Carol K is in the process of moving to a nursing home in Virginia, a few minutes from her daughter's home.  Please keep her and George in your prayers.  I will forward you Carol's new address as soon as it is available. 

Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week’s  question was: In the parable of the grain of mustard seed, when it becomes a tree birds come and do what?A) Build nests, B) Eat the leaves C) Roost for the night D) Find shelter from the rain 
The parable of the mustard seed is found in Mark 4:30-32 and reads  “He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”  Congratulations to Carl R for winning this week's puzzler by knowing the birds make their nest in the mustard tree. 

This week’s question: In the bible the first time people try to know the difference between wheat and weeds (good & evil) is A) the first sin B) Noah after the flood C)Abraham sacrificing Isaac D)The receiving of the 10 commandments.  Send me an email by noon on Wednesday with your answer to be entered into this week's question.  

Wednesday's Worship
This Wednesday we will hear about the parable of the houses on rock and sand and discuss what we are building our "houses", our lives, on.  Worship is at 7pm but come early for dinner at 6:30pm.

Yesterday's sermon
If you would like to read it, it can be found here.  In what ways are you wheat? In what ways are you weeds?  Do you believe we are predestined to be one or the other?  

Assisting this Sunday
The following people have signed up to serve in worship this week.
Worship Assistant: Mark H
Reader: Bob MC
Communion Assistant: Lillian J
Usher: ______ & ________
Communion Set up & Clean up: Nancy B
Bread baker/bringer: _________
Offering Counter: __________
Coffee Hour Host: Heloisa and Mark

Sunday's Text
This coming Sunday the gospel is Matthew:31-33, 44-52, a series of 5 short parables.  The parables are about a mustard seed, yeast, treasure in a field, fine pearls and a net full of fish.  These parables are quite different and use different examples to demonstrate what the kingdom of heaven is like.  These five parables are then tied together by a sixth parable "the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."  What do you think heaven or the kingdom of heaven is like?  What would you compare it too?  

Hope you all have a wonderful week!
Pastor Becca

"Wheat OR Weeds" or "Wheat AND Weeds"

Yesterday's gospel was Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, the parable of the wheat and weeds. In my pastor's bible study group, we had a lot of conversation about how to understand this gospel and who are we, are we either the wheat or weeds, are we both at the same time, are we the field?  I think we are the later two, both wheat and weeds and the field.  

Enjoy the sermon!

I really struggle with this parable – the wheat and the weeds.  Not because the weeds are planted among the wheat, that evil resides amongst good, this is quiet obvious in the world today.  Nor do I struggle with passage because the weeds are not able to be destroyed without harming the wheat – evil cannot be taken out of this world without something happening to the good that is in it.  Instead I struggle with this passage because of the concept of predestination. 

Predestination is the concept that it has already been determined by God who is good and who is bad and nothing we can do will change that.  And when people hear this passage about the good seed being the children of the kingdom of God and the weeds are the children of the evil one and the seeds were sown by the Son of Man and the devil, people figure you must be either one or the other.  A weed cannot change into wheat and wheat cannot change into a weed.  We all must be either good or bad and since we are the ones who are hearing the passage we must be good and let’s get rid of the bad. 

People have used this passage to decide to get the bad people, the weeds out of their communities, out of their denominations and out of their congregations when people do not agree with them on the “right” interpretation of scripture, the “right” way of doing worship, the “right” stance on an issue or even how to interpret scripture in the first place.  We must get rid of the weeds, we must make this field, the world pure. 

And yet the sower told the slaves to leave the weeds. That in getting rid of the weeds before the harvest would cause damage to the wheat.  So maybe we aren’t either one or the other, weeds or wheat, and instead we are the field. 

God has sown good in us, and yet as human we are also full of evil.  If we try to get rid of the evil within us, we would not be able to survive since our very being, the very fact that we are human, is sinful.  Instead both good and evil resides in us and we cannot have one without the other.  Maybe we can look at the immortal wisdom of the soon to be summer blockbuster movie Cowboys & Aliens in which Harrison Ford says “I’ve seen good men do bad things and bad men do good things.”  Or maybe we can use that famous Lutheran saying that we are at the same time both sinners and saints.

So we can’t get rid the evil of this world or even the evil inside us, but there is still good news.  At the end of the age, whenever that is, October 21, 2011, sometime in 2012, when we die, or eons from now, the good and the evil within us and within this world will be separated.  The evil will pass away, by burning, being thrown into a furnace, being wept upon and gnawed on, I do not know exactly how, but the evil will leave us.  And the righteousness, the good in us, while shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father.  We will be made good, and not just human good, but godly good, perfect, pure, sinless. 

Jesus has already died on the cross for us, to save us from these sins of our, this evil that resides in us.  The weeping and gnashing of teeth has already started and it is not yet here.  Our sins and evil have been forgiven and yet we will still sin and be evil and they will continue to be forgiven.  We have already been made righteous and yet we still do evil in order to just be made righteous again. 

We are not predestined to be either wheat or weeds good or evil.  Instead we are both wheat and weeds, good and evil.  But we live in the promise that one day we will all be just wheat, just good.  And there is nothing we can do about that, for it is Jesus who died on the cross to make us righteous so that we will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

MMC: Sower and Wheat

Good Morning Bethlehem!

How are we in the middle of July already?  Summer seems to be flying by!  

A Few Announcments
  • Hammo registration is due! All confirmation & high school students are invited to attend and registration forms can be found at  Please get the form and a check for $45 per person to me ASAP.  I am also in need of at least one more adult to join us.  Please let me know if you are interested in attending. 
  • Bethlehem is going to the Connecticut Wine Festival Sunday July 31 after worship.  Tickets are $25 at the door $20 in advance or $10 of DD/under 21.  Go to for more information about the event or to order you tickets.
  • The outdoor worship service is Sunday August 7.  Come join us for worship on the lawn, followed by a picnic.  Hotdogs & hamburgers provided, but please bring a side dish or dessert to share. 
  • The giving basket is collecting toiletries.  Any size toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, soap, body wash, mouth wash, etc is needed, but travel sizes are particularly welcomed.  All items will be donated to Americare Clinic in Danbury.
Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week’s  question was: Which is not a letter attributed to Paul? A) Romans B) Galatians C) Jude D)Philippians 
Jude was written by a man named Jude.  The other letters are all attributed to Paul. 

This week’s question: In the parable of the grain of mustard seed, when it becomes a tree birds come and do what? A) Build nests, B) Eat the leaves C) Roost for the night D) Find shelter from the rain If you know the answer, or even if you look it up, let me know by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing. 

Sunday's sermon
If you missed the sermon you can read it here.  When have you felt like God was removing the rocks so you faith can grow deeper, weeding the cares of this world from your life, aerating the path that you have set or adding compost or manure to your life?  How is God turning you into good soil?  Has it been an easy process?

Wednesday's Worship
This Wednesday we will hear the story of Jesus' baptism and talk about our own baptisms.  Worship begins at 7pm but come early for dinner starting at 6:30pm.

Serving This Coming Sunday
The following people have signed up to lead worship in the following ways:
Worship Assistant: Ellen G
Reader: Nancy B
Communion Assistant: Victor M
Usher: _______ & __________
Bread baker/bringer: __________
Communion Set up/clean up: __________
Offering Counter: __________
Coffee Hour Host: The Muniz Family
If you would like to sign up to serve in any of the blank areas please let me know.

This Sunday's Text
The gospel for Sunday is Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, the parable of the wheat and the weeds.  When has someone thwarted your plans?  Last week I asked if you are good soil, this week I ask, are you good seed?  When do you feel like good seed? When do you feel like bad seed?  Is it as easy to identify the people who are good in this world from those who are bad as it is to identify weeds from wanted plants?  

Hope you all have a great week!

Pastor Becca

Becoming Good Soil

The gospel for Sunday was Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, the parable of the sower.  My first thoughts when I read the parable was actually about a class that I took in seminary on parables.  Two of the books that we read were entitled "Many Things in Parables" and "Hear Then the Parables" both of which take their titles from lines in this passage.  But when I was actually thinking about the text I was thinking about my garden.  

Last year Bob and I made a raised bed garden and filled it with soil bought at our local home improvement store. And last year with fresh good soil, we barely had to weed, there were no rocks and it was not compact.  This year we tilled the soil at the beginning of the season, picked out a few rocks and have weeded much more this year.  We also added fertilizer and compost to help add nutrients.  By putting work into, we continued to keep the soil good, which is what farmers do every year with their soil.  So then why do we assume that if you aren't good soil in the parable that you can never be good soil?  Hence the background for my sermon.  


Are you good soil? Earlier we sang “Lord, let my heart be good soil,” so are you good soil? Or are you the hard path? Or the rocky ground? Or are you choked with weeds? Are you something else and hoping to be good soil?

Jesus says that people who are good soil are the ones who hear the word of God and understand it and then bears fruit that yields 30, 60 or a 100 times what was sown. Well can any of us be then good soil? Does anyone hear God’s word and always understand it? The disciples sure didn’t understand Jesus’ parable which is why Jesus had to explain it. Each week I struggle with the text, not just how to present it but how to understand it, what is Jesus saying in these words, what is the point for our lives today. And then we have to tell others about Jesus to be considered good soil and not just one person but 30, 60 or a 100 people. That is difficult to do, so can any of us be good soil? And what can we do to become good soil?

Well soil does not change itself, however the farmer, or gardener or sower can change the soil to make it good. The farmer can till the path so make that hard soil more open and receptive to receiving seed. The farmer can remove the rocks so that roots can grow deeper so the plant can get better nutrients and be more drought resistant. The farmer can weed the ground so that the plants that are wanted can thrive instead of the plants that are unwanted.

And even with good soil the farmer needs to continue to take care of it to make sure that it remains good soil. Rocks, which have been pushed up from deeper underground, need to be removed on a regular basis. Compost or manure needs to be added regularly to the soil to help increase the nutrients in the soil and therefore the yields of the plants. Mulch added to the top can help keep the soil moist and therefore keep the plants well watered. And the soil also needs to be kept fallow on occasion to help with growth in future seasons.

And just like a farmer who takes care of his soil, so too is God taking care of us, the soil, the dirt that we are. God is constantly stir up our lives, adding new things, some of which seems like they are just a bunch of poop or rotten food which is essentially what manure and compost is. The manure or compost of our lives are adversities and hardships: illness, deaths, financial struggles, relationship issues. And even though hardships are stuff that we do not want when we are experiencing them, often after they have passed, we realize that without them we would not be the person we have become and they have made us a better person. In these hardships in our lives, God is adding diversity to our experiences. In each new bit of poop or rotten food, God is allowing us to be able to relate to many more people who also have been affected by such things. And just to be clear God is not the one who causes these hardships, instead God is the one who allows us to realize that what was once rotten food or poop is actually things that have added to the bounty of our lives.

God too is removing the rocks from our soil, from ourselves. God is helping our roots grow deeper, helping us learn more about the Word. God is there giving us new ways to learn more about God so that our faith can be stronger. This fall, our congregation will have a new way of digging deeper into our faith as we begin Grow 2 Gather, a new intergenerational learning experience where children, teens and adults will hear together the stories of our faith and interact in ways that help us deepen our understanding of those stories. Because when we deepen the knowledge of our faith, our faith has a better chance of producing fruit as we tell others about why our faith is important to us.

God is also aerating the soil that is our lives. Just when we think we have the path for our lives figured out God jumps in and tumbles us around. And yet in doing so great things happen. When I had graduated seminary, I thought I had my life figured out as to where I was going. I never thought I would be called to a small congregation in Connecticut, and yet here I am and now I can’t imagine being anywhere else because I know this is where God wants me to be.

God is also weeding our lives. The weeds are a very typical problem for people in America, the cares of this world the lure of wealth chokes our faith. How often have we push our faith down on the list of our priorities as school activities, or community events or a day at the beach have seemed more and more important?

God is constantly changing us, making us into good soil. Helping us to better understand the word, helping us to dig deeper in our faith, and our faith lives to be stronger so that we are not consumed by the cares of this world.

And God occasionally allows us to lie fallow. We are allowed to take a break a times, giving over leadership positions on council, or as worship leaders and instead sit back and be fed spiritually so that we can later produce more fruit. We can’t constantly be going, always caring for other people’s needs, both physical and spiritual, and expect to still be strong ourselves spiritually.

So we are all good soil, or at least on our way to being good soil. And we constantly need nurturing, through worship, prayer, service, and even respite in order to be God’s people in this world, in order to allow others to see God through us. And regardless of where we are, or what we are right now, good soil, the path, rocky ground or the thornes, God is still abundantly showering love, the seeds of faith, upon us.  God is spreading that love to all people, good soil and not-so-good soil, in the hopes that the seeds will take root and we will produce good fruit.  And even if we don't, well we still showered in God's love. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tuesday Afternoon Church

Good Afternoon Bethlehem

I hope that you all had a wonderful 4th of July!  I sure did and I'm a little red to prove it.  

A few quick announcements
  • For all youth going to the Hammonassett Youth Gathering September 9-11, I need the registration form and a check for $45 this coming Sunday.  You can download the registration form at, click on the link for "participant registration form' about halfway down on the left-hand side.  Are you an adult interested in going?  Please email or talk to me.
  • Senior Lunch is tomorrow.  We will be meeting at noon at the Sunset Grill in Norwalk.  All are welcome to join us. 
  • The giving basket will be collecting toiletries throughout July & August.  Travel sizes are especially welcomed but any size shampoo, soap, conditioner, mouthwash, toothpaste, toothbrush, etc, is needed.  All items will be donated to the Americares Health Clinic in Danbury. 
  • Bethlehem is going to the Connecitcut Wine Fest on Sunday July 31.  A group will be leaving after worship to head to the Goshen fairgrounds.  Tickets are $25 at the door, $20 in advanced or $10 for DD/under 21.  For more information check out 
Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week's question was: The 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.  No one answered this week's question so I'm keeping all the bread to myself.  But Ruth is not a book of a prophet.  Ruth is one of the histories found more towards the beginning of the Old Testament.  The prophets start at Isaiah and run through Malachi.  

This week's question is: Which is not a letter attributed to Paul?  A) Romans B) Galatians C) Jude D) Philippians.  Since I'm sending this a day later than normal, you have until Thursday at noon this week to submit your answer to the puzzler.  Hint: you only need to read the first verse of each book to find out. 

Sunday's Sermon
You can find the sermon here if you missed it or want to red it.  What is your definition of freedom?  What failures keep you from being free?  How do you find freedom in Christ?

Wednesday's Worship
Tomorrow night we will hear about Jonah and the big fish and talk about how we listen to and follow God.  Do you run away into the belly of a big fish, or do you go where God is commanding you to go?  Worship begins at 7pm but come early at 6:30pm for dinner.

This week's text
This coming Sunday the gospel is the well loved parable of the sower found in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.  When have you felt like your life is hard soil like a path?  When has your life been rocky ground when you faith has not had deep roots?  When has your life been full of weeds and other things have consumed your faith?  When has your life been good soil when you are able to care for and nurture your faith?  What is the soil of your life right now?  How can I and others tend to you, encourage you and pray for you so that you may be good soil?  

I hope you all have a great week and I'll see you soon!

~Pastor Becca

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Freedom and Failures

Tomorrow is the 4th of July, Independence Day, in the USA, the anniversary of when our country's founds signed the Declaration of Independence.  It is a day that many people celebrate their freedom by blowing stuff up, cooking on a grill and possibly parading down a street waving flags.  But it is also a good day to remind ourselves that true freedom does not come from the government but from Christ.

And it is almost like the Revised Common Lectionary thought this too as many of our readings refer to freedom, especially Romans 7:15-25a and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30.  

Enjoy both the sermon and your 4th of July weekend, but most importantly, enjoy your freedom in Christ. 

What is freedom? What does it mean to be free? We will hear a lot about freedom this week as our country celebrates Independence Day. So maybe that is an idea, that freedom is about being independent from other’s control. And as we have already started the process for the next presidential election even though it is almost a year and a half away, we will hear people talk about freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. So we often think that freedom means that we are able to write, say or worship as we would like.

But everyone who has ever taken even a high school civics class can tell you, even in American were we boast about our freedoms, we aren’t really free, we are still limited in some ways that hinder our freedom. You are not allowed to yell fire in a crowded theater and claim you did so out of freedom of speech. Newspapers, magazines and even blogs are not allowed to right blatant lies about a person just because they are protected by the freedom of the press. Even religious freedoms are infringed upon. Utah was only made a state because the Mormon church gave up the practice of polygamy.

And those are just the legal examples. Personally people are judged for much more. People who are born in America often feel they can say whatever they want and yet they give looks of disgust to a couple speaking Spanish, their native language, in the supermarket. Teenagers post mean comments and gossip about classmates on Facebook and Twitter even if they are known to be untrue. We boast to be a country founded on the idea of religious freedom as the Puritans and other groups came from Europe to practice their sect of Christianity, yet we give weary looks to the person walking down the street in headscarf or sari, because they practice a religion that is unfamiliar to us.

We do have wonderful freedoms in this country, and for that I am grateful, but no government can truly make us free. Instead it is Christ who makes us free. But Christ doesn’t make us free to say, write or worship as we will, instead Jesus, through his death on the cross, has set us free from the law, Jesus has set us free from sin and death.

In our tongue twisting text from Roman’s today, Paul is saying that regardless of how much he tries he still ends up doing the things that he knows that he shouldn’t do and he doesn’t do the things that he knows that he should do. How often have you reached for the second helping of food, or the dessert, or another bottle of beer even when you are trying to diet or cut back on your drinking? How often have you lashed out towards someone because you are truly upset because of work or another circumstance that has nothing to do with them? Why is it that we can never keep a New Year’s Resolution? Why is it that one day we can be the perfect spouse, parent, employee, child or pastor, and the next it seems like we can’t get anything right? This is all because of human nature, sin, that keeps us from God. And the law, the how we are to act part, is what is suppose to help us become closer to God, but regardless of how hard we try, we just can’t seem to do everything right.

Well it is Christ who frees us from this cycle. It is Christ who allows us to break free from constantly trying to do what is right, and yet constantly failing.

In the gospel today, Jesus says that John the Baptist fasted and people thought he was crazy and yet Jesus feasted with many people and he was called a drunkard. That no matter what they did, they could not please the crowd. Well that is how it is with the law. You could stay in your seat confessing all of your sins and eventually you would come to confessing that you were not able to care for the sick, the orphaned, the naked, the imprisoned, that you neglected your family and your friends because you were too busy sitting here confessing your other sins.

We can never be free of this cycle, except because of Jesus who sets us free from the law, from sin, from death. Yes we are still subjects to the law, both civil and religious, I can’t murder someone and expect to not have to go to jail or not be judged by God because of it. And in the same way, even though we are free from sin and death we will still sin and we will all someday die. We are not set free from sin and death but we are set free from the fear of sin and death. Jesus has set us free from that cycle of constantly trying to do what is right and yet constantly failing. Again Christ has not set us free from failure itself but free from the fear of failure. True freedom through Christ is the ability to trust that even if we fail, we are doing God’s will.

So what does this mean for us, as individuals and as a congregation? Well just like great political leaders have admitted that they failed, and great religious leaders have been humbled enough to say that their failures were their doing and their successes were God’s. In the same way, great congregations are ones who realize that they are set free from failure through Jesus’ death on the cross. Therefore great congregations are ones that try new things knowing they may fail and still do them with the hope that as a result more people will hear about God. Knowing we are free means not living in fear of failure, it means that we risk new things, new ways of reaching out to the community, new ways of worshiping Christ, new ways of seeing God in our lives. And we realize that even if it doesn’t catch on, even if it doesn’t work for us, we are beloved children of God who are not bounded by our failures, instead we have been set free.