Thursday, September 29, 2011

Changes in October

I have been pretty quite on my blog lately, well other than sermons and Monday Morning Church updates.  But things are going to change soon because things are changing in my personal life as well.

October has been a scary month on my calendar for awhile now, one that I have looked at starting in August and wondered how I was going to survive until then and how I will survive through October.  And now as we have neared closer to that elusive month, October means even more things me.

For the last few years, my Stitch and Bitch friends have talked about the fun and excitement that is Rhinebeck, aka the New York Sheep and Wool Festival.  This year I decided that even though I'm not a knitter I'm going to go.  It has been a long time since I've had a girls weekend and I'm looking forward to hanging out with my friends for a full weekend with stitching, wine, fiber and our sexy hats (pictures will be kept a secret until Rhinebeck). So I've taken that weekend (October 14-16) off of work.  Well for me since a lot of my work Monday through Friday leads to stuff on Saturday and Sunday, if I'm not going to be there on the weekend I might as well take the whole week off, plus I had an extra week of vacation so I might as well use it.  Woo-hooo vacation week!  Nothing scary about that.

Also Bishop's Convocation, our synod's annual gathering of pastors and rostered leaders is always the last full week of October.  So Monday through Wednesday, October 24-26, I will be on Cape Cod enjoying the company of my colleague in ministry and listening to our awesome keynote speaker, Nadia Bolz,-Weber who is probably the most predominant Lutheran emerging church voice. Okay that seems do-able a week off and another 3 days away at a conference.

Back in July I realized that I still had half of my continuing education budget to use so I started looking at conferences to attend.  Well the Celebration of Biblical Preaching stuck out at me as something I wanted to attend.  It had many more pros that cons.  Pro: Interested in the topic. Pro: Really enjoy some of the presenters work and want to hear more from them. Pro: Stuff I will actually use in ministry.  Pro: Also going over the lectionary for the next year - very helpful. Pro: It is in Minnesota so I'll get to see family and friends.  Con: it is also in October (the 3rd - 6th to be exact) Pro: I have the week off afterwards with nothing really planned in Connecticut, so I can take a few extra days.  Sweet I'm going.

But now you see my October has been scary since August.  It basically means I'll have about a week and a half in the office/at home all month long.

And now the changes in my personal life:

In July Bob heard about a PhD fellowship opportunity and applied in August.  And he got it!!!  Bob will be researching ancient Assyrian mathematics at the University of Paris Diderot (as in France!) and he starts:

November 2!

When he applied we thought the fellowship started at the beginning of October, so I thought if by some chance he got it, it would be a good thing that I would be so busy in October so I wouldn't miss him as much.  Ha!  Now instead of just being busy for that month, and only home for 1 1/2 weeks I also have only 1 1/2 weeks left with Bob really before he leaves for Paris for a few months, though he might sneak up to Bishop's Convocation with me (shhh....don't tell the bishop or really don't tell the hotel staff)

So yes things are going to be busy, and things are going to be changing.

Hopefully I will get back into the habit of adding some non-sermon or MMC posts on a regular basis.  And you will get to hear about me adjusting to living alone.  Stuff like Bob and I figuring out skype dates with the time difference, and me buying Lean Cuisines and other meals for one, or me learning to go to the library or coffee hours on a regular basis just so my 1 minute interaction with the librarian or barista can be my one face to face interaction for the day.

I am really super excited for Bob, he has worked so hard for this and unfortunately has dealt with a lot of rejection thus far in the process.  But I know this is his calling, and this is where God wants him to be.  We have spent time apart before - most of the time we were dating we were in different states or different countries - and last year he spent a few days a week on the other side of Connecticut.  But I also know it will be hard to adjust to not seeing him on a regular basis, not being able to talk to him to brainstorm a sermon or to rant about something that is bugging me.  Or not being able to give him a hug and a kiss good bye in the morning.  But thus far I have yet to mourn me missing him yet, because I'm still trying to survive till the end of October.

Monday, September 26, 2011

MMC: Beginning of October

Good Morning Bethlehem

I hope you all had a great weekend and are ready to face this Monday.

A Few Quick Announcements
  • Confirmation is meeting tomorrow evening at the church at 6pm
  • This coming Sunday is World Communion Sunday, come enjoy many hymns that have a Hispanic flare to them. 
  • Thank you to everyone for making my 2nd ordination anniversary special.  I really am blessed to be serving this great congregation.
Book of Faith Puzzler
The last weeks question was: What did God create on the 4th day?  A)light B)animals C) sun, stars and moon, D) land     In Genesis starts with the creation story and 1:14-19 talk about the 4th day in which sun, moon and stars were made.  Congratulations to Becky P for winning this week's puzzler. 
This week’s question:  How many visitors told Abraham that Sarah would have a son within a year?  Submit your answer to me by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.

Yesterday's Sermon
If you missed it you can read it here.  And thank you to everyone who asked questions.  I will keep this list and refer to it for future sermons and hopefully help us explore the answers. What other questions do you have about faith, scripture, the afterlife, theology?

Serving this Sunday
The following people have signed up to serve in worship this Sunday.
Worship Assistant: Ellen G
Reader: Bob MC
Communion Assistant: Lillian J
Ushers: ________ & ________
Communion Set-up & clean up: __________
Bread baker/bringer:_________
Offering Counter: Nancy Land Dorothy H
Coffee Hour Host: Barbara C

If you are willing to serve in one of the ways that are currently free, please let me know

Sunday's Texts
The first reading is Isaiah 5:1-7.  The author writes a love song for the vineyard that he tended to but it yielded wild grapes.  Afterwards he let the vineyard be destroyed.  When have you felt tended/care for by God?  When have you felted left abandoned?  

The second lesson is Philippians 3:4b-14.  Paul writes of his religious heritage and but yet those things which were highly valued by his society don't matter to Christ.  It is his faith that matters.  What is one thing that you prize that probably does not matter to God?  Why do we put such stock into these earthly things?

The gospel is Matthew 21:33-46 the parable of the wicked tenants who kill the slaves and son of the vineyard owner.  When are we like the wicked tenants who mistreat God's messengers (and God's son)?  When have you also been a slave who has been mistreated when telling others about God?

Hope you have a great week and see you Sunday
~Pastor Becca

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Questions, Questions and More Questions.

Today's gospel, Matthew 21:23-32,  is one of those kinda crummy text to preach.  First Jesus' authority is questioned and then Jesus tells a parable of two sons.  There were a lot of comments in my pastors bible study this week about the lack of unity between the two parts and just general confusion of the text.  (It also doesn't help that neither the 1st nor 2nd lessons were all the great of preaching options either, though all three text are wonderful bible study text as they have quite a bit of depth and bring up many questions).

But there was one thing that struck me about this text: the chief priest and elders asked Jesus a question. 

We have many questions for Jesus and we don't always want to ask them or get to ask them.  So I decided to ask my congregation what their questions are, which I have included in italics, and there were a lot of questions.  The questions were asked by people ages 4 to 80 plus.  Some light hearted, some profound. Some I laughed when they were asked, some my heart broke when they were asked.  I will keep this list and refer to it and while I probably am not able to answer the questions, I hope in the future I will at least help people explore the answers for themselves. So what are your questions for Jesus?


Our gospel starts with what could be a simple question posed to Jesus by the chief priest and the elders: “By what authority are you doing these things?  Who gave you this authority?”

But we all know that not all questions are asked purely to seek information.  Yes you can ask questions solely out of curiosity “Why is the sky blue?”  “What makes up light?”  But you can also ask questions to inform someone “Did you know that the men of Bethlehem are meeting tonight at 6pm?”  And you can even ask questions to entrap someone.  We do it all the time.  “Did you do your homework?”  “Did you eat the last piece of cake?” “Who took my stapler?” When we ask these questions, most often we know the answer, no you haven’t done your homework, yes you ate the cake even though I said I wanted it, I know you have my stapler even though I told you not to take things from my desk. 

And occasionally when we ask these entrapment questions, no matter what the answer is we are ready to pounce. 

This is the case for the elders and the chief priest.  Really they didn’t need to hear the answer because no matter how Jesus answered the question they were ready to attack him.  If he said God gave him the authority, they would have called him crazy or accuse him of blasphemy.  But on the other hand if Jesus said that he performed miracles, healed the sick and drove out the money changers from the temple on his own authority, they would have accused him of being above the law. Either way, Jesus’ response would have gotten him into trouble with the law and possibly even put to death. 

This is why Jesus avoids the question by asking a question of his own.  If the elders and chief priest truly wanted to know who gave him the authority to drive money changers out of the temple, perform miracles and heal the sick, he would have answered it. 

Questions are part of faith.  We all have them.  Questions about scripture, questions about the nature of God, questions about how to understand and practice our faith in our daily lives, at work, at home, when hanging out with friends, when running errands.  Throughout the gospels people are asking Jesus questions, and most of the time he actually answers them.

So I’m going to give you an opportunity to write future sermons and possibly some bible studies.  What are your questions?  About faith, scripture, theology, the afterlife.

Why do horrible things happen?  
Why do people hurt each other?
How do we understand scripture?
How are we to reconcile scripture with science and everything?
Who goes to heaven?  How about animals?
How should we celebrate Jesus' birth and resurrection? 
What is heaven like?
What is Jesus' favorite color?
Will we meet our loved ones in heaven?
Why does it often seem like evil "wins"?
Why does God allow so many innocent people to die on September 11, in war, etc?
How are we to tell tell others about Jesus?
Who goes to hell? 
What is hell?
Can you get to heaven from hell and vice versa?
Why is there pain in the world and why do some people suffer so greatly before death?
Why do people look asleep when they are dead?
Why is there hell?
Why do some people think certain people will go to hell?
Why do we worry so much about heaven and hell instead of this earth?
When will the world end? 
Will the world end?  If so how?
Why is there doubt? Why do some people not believe?
Is there life on other planets?
What is Jesus' favorite denomination?
What does Jesus think about the church today?

Now I’m not going to answer them now, because well we would be here all day for one, and two I’m not prepared to answer these questions right now.  But also I can’t answer these questions for you.  I can tell you what I believe.  I can tell you want the ELCA believes or at least where they lean on some of the answers.  With some research, I can tell you want different theologians and religious leaders have said about the topic over history.  But I cannot answer these questions for you. 

Part of growing in your faith, maturing in understanding, is to explore these questions for yourself, for everyone on this planet has questions about faith.  And Jesus invites us to ask them, as long as we are asking out of curiosity and not to entrap him.  God has given us scripture and theologians and church bodies and religious leaders to help us explore these questions for ourselves.   And when these human means are not enough, faith is relying on Jesus to help fill in the gaps and faith is what causes us to continue to ask questions. 

And Jesus is calling us to help others ask the questions.  To help others realize that church is not a place that you go when you have all the answers but a place you go when all you have is questions.  We are called to help others ask their questions and also to point to Jesus for the answers. 

For we do not need to know the answers for salvation, we just need to be willing to ask questions and look to Jesus for the answers.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

MMC: Great News!

Good Morning Bethlehem

I hope you all are enjoying this beautiful Monday morning.  

A Few Quick Announcements
  • Join us this Friday for Family Fun Night.  If you are available at 4pm, meet at the church and we will go apple picking at Blue Jay Orchard in Bethel. If not come at 6:30 for a light dinner, and apple related fun: apple treats will be made and we will bob for apples and play Apples to Apples.
  • Grow 2 Gather will be meeting on Sunday at 9am.  We will hear about the life of Abraham and then you can either play a game, participate in a small service project or help prepare the church grounds for fall.
  • All men are invited for the first meeting of the men's group this coming Sunday at 6pm for a grill out.
  • Thank you to everyone who donated items for the health kits.  All 50 kits were put together yesterday and will be shipped off shortly to Lutheran World Relief.
Book of Faith Puzzler
The last weeks question was: The first lesson starts after Joseph’s father had died.  Who was Joseph’s (from the Genesis) father?  A) Noah B) Isaac C) Jacob D) Joshua
Jacob, Joseph’s father, had 12 sons of which Joseph was the favored being the first born of his favorite wife, Rachel.  You can read about Jacob & Joseph’s lives in Genesis starting at the 37th chapter.  Congratulations to Nancy Beck for winning this week's puzzler
This week’s question:  What did God create on the 4th day?  A)light B)animals C) sun, stars and moon, D) land  If you know the answer, email me your answer by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.

A Personal Announcement
As Bob announced in worship yesterday, he has received a fellowship to study cuneiform math in a PhD program at University of Paris Diderot.  I am so proud of my husband and look forward to all that he will be able to accomplish.  However we are both committed to the ministry at Bethlehem, so I will be staying here in Connecticut and remain serving as Bethlehem's pastor but you can probably guess where I'll be taking my vacations.  

Serving this Sunday
The following people have signed up to help lead worship in the following ways this coming Sunday:
Worship Assistant: Ellen Grunsell
Reader: Paul Degener
Communion Assistant: _________
Usher: Bob Middeke-Conlin & ______
Bread Baker:____________
Offering Counter:__________
Communion set up & clean up:_______
Coffee Hour Host:  Apparently there is going to be some celebration for the 2nd anniversary of my ordination

If you would like to sign up for one of the areas currently blank, please let me know.

Sunday's Texts:
The first lesson is Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32.  Ezekiel challenges his hears who think that they cannot change to change because God is constantly inviting us to turn from our sin.  When have you done something that you thought you could not do?  Is there a certain sin that you would find especially hard to stop committing?  How can you use the first experience to help you find strength to stop sinning?

The second lesson is Philippians 2:1-13.  This reading includes one of the earliest Christian hymns (verses 6-11) which talks about Jesus humbling himself and being obedient to the point of death.  What can we learn from Christ's selflessness?  As of the result of Jesus' death, he was also exalted, when have you been praised for doing what is naturally in you to do?

The gospel lesson is Matthew 21:23-32.  The gospel starts with the religious leaders asking Jesus what authority he has for teaching and he turns it back on them by asking if John's baptism came from heaven or from human origin.  Answering questions with questions, is older than Socrates and can be quiet effective in getting people to think in a different mindset, but it can also be unnerving to others.  When have you been pushed to answer your own question?  Were you flustered like these religious leaders or were you able to answer yourself?  Jesus then tells a parable about 2 sons, one who tells his father he will not work but changes his mind and does, the other tells his father he will work but does not.  We all have been both sons at points in our lives.  When have you said one thing but done the opposite?  Why did you change your mind?

Hope you all have a great week and see you on Friday
~Pastor Becca

It's not fair, but you decide why

Yesterday was Rally Day at Bethlehem, meaning that it was a busy day with LOTS of (almost too much) stuff before, during, and after worship.  But it was a festive day which always makes worship wonderful. 

At the beginning of worship, I pointed out two note cards stuff into each bulletin.  I asked people to write on one something they hold a grudge against or are envious of.  On the other I asked them to write a blessing they have received.  We then used these note cards during the sermon which was based on the gospel Matthew 20:1-16.

Enjoy the sermon!

Can you blame the first for being upset?  If any of us were in the same situation wouldn’t we each be upset that we did not get more?  We worked a full day, 12 hours under the hot sun.  Meanwhile those others just worked an hour and yet they got the same pay as us.  So what if we agreed to the pay that we received before we ever started the job?  So what if what we were given is enough for us to support our families by putting food on the table and a roof over our heads?  What we care about is that it is not fair!  It is not fair that we worked 12 times the amount as the last hired and yet we got the same pay.  It is not fair that the landowner decided to be generous and let all the people under his care to be give enough to survive.  It is not fair!

It is not fair that some of us are struggling to pay our bills while others get multi-million dollar bonuses each year.  It is not fair that some people have been unemployed or underemployed for years and yet others easily jump from one job to another.  It is not fair that some people have to study hard and still only get B’s and others never open a book and so how manage to get an A on the exam.  It is not fair that life seems to constantly dump the worse onto some people in the form of illness, deaths, financial and relationship problems and others never have problems and breeze through life.

Life is not fair!  It is not fair that some people who are good Christians there entire life, always trying to do what is right, and others who come to believe in Christ on the last day, will both receive the same reward of heaven.  Heaven is not fair!

The early laborers were upset that they did not receive more for their work.  They did not think about how depressing it could have been to be waiting for work all day and have perspective employer after perspective employer choose someone else over you.  They did not think about those hired last who spent all day calculating how they will be able to stretch what little they have to feed their families for one more day without an income.  They did not think about how those hired last did not give up hope for finally being able to find work.  Instead as the last hired were receiving their pay, the first were seeing dollar signs in their eyes.  They were already thinking about all the ways they would spend their extra money.  So when they did not receive what they expected, and instead just received what they had agreed upon, they resented those who were hired last.  How dare they get an equal reward for unequal work? 

But if you are able to step out of this parable and look at it from a different point of view, you can see that the first laborers can either hold on to the things that they resent about the last receiving equal pay, or they can rejoice with the last and count their blessings and be grateful that their fellow workers, their neighbors and friends, are also taken care of.  Because the last were paid for a full days work, the first will not have to take of their food in order to help feed their neighbors, those who were only paid for part of the day.  Because the last were paid for a full days work, the first will not have to open their homes in order to allow their relatives, the last to get hired, to have a place to rest their heads at night.  Because the last were paid for a full days work, the entire community is fed, the entire community is cared for, the entire community is blessed.  But the first must choose, they must choose to either hold on to the things that they resent or they must choose to focuses on and lift up their blessings, they can’t do both.

And the same is true for us.  We cannot hold on to both things we resent and to our blessings.  When we hold on to resentment and grudges that we have against others, family members, friends, community members, neighbors, even people who live on the other side of the planet our hearts and minds start to focus only on those negatives and as a results we are not able to celebrate and rejoice in the many blessings and abundances that we are giving.  When we focus on the resentment and grudges we see the world as unfair and we are the ones who are getting the short end of the deal and so we hoard onto what we do have and become inward and me focused.

But when we focus on the blessings and abundances that both ourselves and others have been given, well then we see that the world is unfair, but we are not the ones getting the short end of the deal.  And instead we work to make sure that our abundance, our blessings are given to those who are given less.  Through focusing on the blessings and abundances of this world, we are not only much happier but we also end up with a life-giving sense of justice. 

So you should each have with you two pieces of paper.  I asked you earlier to write one a resentment or grudge that you hold, or something you are envious of.  And on the other I asked you to write something you are grateful for or a blessing you have received.  Now flip them over.  Physically they look much the same on this side. Yet one of these cards is weighing you down spiritually.  One of these cards is like chains wrapped around your heart, keeping you from loving you neighbor and in some cases keeping you from loving God.  And the other card is light, it is something that you want to tell others about, something that you want to share.  Now you have a choice, I’m going to pass a basket around and I’m going to ask you to keep one of those cards and give away the other – I’ll burn them after worship.  The card that you keep, I hope that you hold on to.  I hope you use it as a reminder that you can focus on either the negative or the positive but not both. 

Unfortunately choosing to count blessings instead of holding grudges is not as easy in real life, but remember those who were holding a grudge, the first laborers who were hired, received the landowners grace and generosity.  And even if we end up holding grudges instead of counting our blessings, God still gives us grace and gives it to us generously and with abundance. God is fair because God is just!  God is generous!  God is abundant and God is loving.

Monday, September 12, 2011

MMC: Gearing up for Fall

Good Morning Bethlehem!

I hope you all enjoyed our gorgeous weather this weekend, I know that I and 10 of our youth and adults did at Hammonasset. And I've heard that Sunday's worship was quite nice and it was nice to have Pastor Ned back. 

Some Announcements
It is a busy week coming up at Bethlehem as we kick off our fall
  • Senior Lunch is this Wednesday at noon.  We will be meeting at Chuck's in Danbury. 
  • Our conference is meeting on Saturday at 10am at Salem in Bridgeport.  Please let me know if you would like to join me in hearing what other Lutheran churches are doing in Fairfield County
  • Rally Day is Sunday with our kick off to Grow 2 Gather, our new inter-generational educational program.  All are invited to come at 9am for a time of bible study and this week we will be making health kits for Lutheran World Relief
  • On Sunday we will also be blessing backpacks and other work/school related items during worship.  So bring your backpacks, briefcases, lunch bags, phones, laptops or other items that represents your work. 
  • After worship we will be taking our annual congregational photo, so please plan on sticking around a few minutes and enjoy a snack or cup of coffee/tea/juice during coffee hour.
  • Council is meeting after worship on Sunday.  
  • Mark your calendar to join us for our Family Fun Night on Friday Sept 23. For those able to go apple picking, we are meeting at the church at 4pm.  However the true fun begins at 6:30 as we will make apple related goodies, play Apples to Apples and bob for apples. All forms of family are invited as we are all part of the Bethlehem Family. 
  • All men are invited to a cookout and planning session on Sunday Sept 25 at 6pm.  Enjoy some time of fellowship and brainstorm ways that you as men of Bethlehem can gather, volunteer, serve Bethlehem or just get to know each other better. 
Book of Faith Puzzle
The last weeks question was: In Sunday’s gospel Jesus tells you how to confront someone who sins against you.  But how many times are you suppose to forgive someone who sins against you? A) 7 B) 70 C) 7 times 7 D) 70 times70, E) 700
Well this is a question when I should double check the answer and not type so fast.  Depending on the translation, Jesus says in Matthew 18:22 that we are to forgive either “77 times” or “until 70 times 7”.  Congratulations to Paul B for not just knowing all these options were incorrect but also knowing the actual answer.

This week’s question:  The first lesson starts after Joseph’s father had died.  Who was Joseph’s (from the Genesis) father?  A) Noah B) Isaac C) Jacob D) Joshua If you know the answer, or even if you had to look it up, send me your answer by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.  

Serving this Sunday
The following people have signed up to serve in worship this coming Sunday
Worship Assist: Ellen G
Reader: Nancy B
Communion Assistant:_____
Usher: _____ & ______
Bread baker/bringer: _________
Communion set up/clean up:______
Coffee Hour: Heloisa R & Mark H
Please let me know if you are willing to volunteer in any of the blank spots. 

Sunday's Text
The first reading is Jonah 3:10-4:11.  The book of Jonah is very brief and this comes at the end.  Jonah is sent to go to Ninevah to tell them to repent their sins and turn back to God; Jonah runs and goes the other way; he ends up being swallowed by a big fish; he then decided to go to Ninevah and gets "spewed" out of the fish; the people of Ninevah listen to Jonah and turn back towards God and God forgive them.  However Jonah is not happy about this and gets upset that God forgave them.  When have you been upset that someone was forgiven?  Were you upset that they were forgiven, that the other was able to forgive, or that it wasn't done to you? 

The second lesson is Philippians 1:21-30.  Paul writes about his commitment to Christ and his ministry.  He encourages the people of Philipi to live lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.  How have you lived a live worthy of the gospel?  How have you failed? (and don't worry we have all failed)  How are you still struggling to live a life that is "firm in one spirit", striving for the faith of the gospel and "in no way intimidated by your opponents"? 

The gospel is Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.  The laborers hired at the end of the day get the same pay as those hired at the beginning - a usual daily wage.  Those hired first are upset that they did not get more even though they agreed to their pay at the beginning of their work. Have you ever been in a similar situation, when you thought you would get more than you did based on what others received? How did you react?  Were you envious about what the other received or about the giver's generosity?

Hope you all have a wonderful week and I'll see you Sunday, if not before
~Pastor Becca 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

MMC: Forgiveness in September

Good Morning Bethlehem

I hope you all enjoyed your Labor Day weekend and are enjoying this first rainy day of school.  

A lot is happening at Bethlehem in the next few weeks so please read 

A Few Announcements
  • Forgot your toiletry items?  I will be bringing them to Americares tomorrow (Wednesday) morning.  Please bring them by the parsonage if you forgot, you can leave them on the porch if no one is home. 
  • RALLY DAY is Sept 18.  Starting at 9am we will have a time of hearing bible stories together for all ages followed by making health kits for Lutheran World Relief.   We still need some people to volunteer to bring towels, nail clippers and combs.  If you are willing to provide those items, please let me know.  
  • During worship on Sept 18 bring your backpack, lunch bag, briefcase, or whatever else you use in your vocation so that they can be blessed.  
  • After worship on Sept 18 we will have our annual congregational photo so please plan to stick around for a few minutes.
  • Senior Lunch is Wed Sept 14 at noon at Chucks in Danbury. All are invited to join us for lunch and conversation.
  • Our conference is meeting Saturday Sept 17 at 10 at Salem Lutheran in Bridgeport.  All are invited to attend and find out what is going on at other Lutheran churches in our area.  Please let me know if you are interested in attending.
Book of Faith Puzzler
The last puzzler from 2 weeks ago was: In our 2nd reading from Romans 12, Paul talks about the body of Christ having many members but we are of one body.  Where else does Paul compare the church to a human body? A) Genesis 40, B) 1 Corinthians 12, C) Matthew 8 D) Galatians 7 Out of those options Paul only wrote the books of 1 Corinthians and Galatians, but Galatians only has 6 chapters.  Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians has a wonderful analogy of the church as a body and how we need all parts of the body. 

This week's puzzler is: In today’s gospel Jesus tells you how to confront someone who sins against you.  But how many times are you suppose to forgive someone who sins against you? A) 7 B) 70 C) 7 times 7 D) 70 times70, E) 700 F) 70 time 7.  If you know the answer you have until Thursday at noon this week to submit your answer to me.  

Sunday's Sermon
Were you traveling this weekend and missed it?  You can read the sermon here.  What do you love and hate about community?  Have you ever politely confronted someone?  How did it go?  What concerns you and frees you about Jesus' advice?

Serving this Sunday
Are you willing to be a reader, usher, counter, worship assistant or communion assistant this Sunday or in the future?  Let me know

Sunday's Text
The first reading is Genesis 50:15-21. Joseph's brothers come to him begging for forgiveness and asking to be his slaves as a result of their actions.  Joseph not only forgives their sins against him but says good actually came out of it.  When have you begged for forgiveness and been forgiven more than expected?  How can this text help us as a nation as many do not forgive the terrorist and those who masterminded September 11, 2001 or even hold those few men's actions against people who are of the same nationality or religious?  

The second reading is Romans 14:1-12.  Paul writes to a community that is struggling with diversity (Christians of Jewish heritage and Christians from various other religious heritages) and says that they should not despise or judge those who are different from them for we will all stand before God in judgement.  We as a nation have struggled many times with religious diversity.  How have you despised or judge those who are or different religious heritages that yourself?  It is hard to stop despising and judging others; how can we be less judgmental? 

The gospel is Matthew 18:21-35.  Jesus tells his disciples how much to forgive and then tells the parable of a slaves whose debt was forgiven by the king but then went out and acted cruelly to someone who owed him.  God forgives us many times and yet we have a hard time forgiving others.  When have you had a  hard time forgiving someone?  When have you received forgiveness from someone?  Who are you not able to forgive?

Hope you have a wonderful week
~Pastor Becca

I Love Community, but....

Sunday's sermon was based on Matthew 18:15-20, where Jesus points out how to go about addressing a member of the church sinning against another member of the church.  Well after a week when most of the member of Bethlehem, and most of the residents of Connecticut were without power for multiple days, we have been on a high about talking about how good community is.  In fact many of the ways people talked about how they saw God was in people coping with the aftermath of Irene as a community.  But as anyone knows there are some dangers to living in a community.


It has been an interesting week.  As most of us were without power for a few days, we all harnessed our inner pioneer to find ways to cook, bathe, and spend hours in the dark with electricity.  But I have heard one big positive about this week, a phrase I have heard over and over “The community has come together.”  Neighbors have let people plug into their generators, those with electricity have open their homes to those without to shower or just hang out in the evening, and even just the general fact that we couldn’t stay in front of our personal laptops and tvs, people have gotten out of their homes and met and gotten to know their neighbors a little better.  The community has come together.

But we actually are each part of many different communities.  What communities do you consider yourself to be a part of?

And as I have mentioned earlier there are some great benefits of being part of a community, what are other things that you love about being part of a community? Kindness, Camaraderie, friendship

But there are also downsides of being within a community.  We all have moments when we want to avoid others for various reasons, but let’s name some of them now. Gossip, group think, xenophobia

Jesus knew that community is a wonderful gift, but in all communities, and in the church especially, a community that is suppose to be based in God’s grace and love, these things, these negative things can get in the way of forming and maintaining a community.  So Jesus put out some basic points.

First he gives the obvious, people sin and communities, the church included, are made up of sinning people.  But Jesus says that when someone in your community, in your church, sins against you, to do something about it by going to them directly and calling them on this.  And if they don’t listen to you, you go and get a few more people involved.  Now these other people are not to gather witnesses or to get people on your side, but as a way of involving the larger community that is also affected.  And if the person still does not listen then get the whole community involved, but be worried at this point you are at risk of the community being in turmoil.

Oh this is scary almost to think about.  It is difficult, especially when you have a relationship with someone but you aren’t extremely close to them, to tell them that you are upset with their behavior.  When a stranger cuts you off in traffic, it is easy to yell at them and to get upset.  Or when your spouse or parent or sibling says something to you that offends you, you can normally tell them so, though it might be a few minutes or days later and after either a good talk or a yelling match, all is good again and you are still in a relationship with them.  But when it is a friend or a fellow worshipper or your pastor, it can be difficult.  How can you tell them that you were hurt or offended by something that they did or didn’t do without either sounding accusatory or like you are such a sensitive person that you quake at any minor offense.  Often it is the unknown, the unknown of how that person will react that scares us the most about confrontation.  When we don’t know how they will react, when we confront someone even with grace and love, we worry if they will over react or take it out on us or won’t take us seriously.

So instead of confronting people in a loving and grace-filled manner, we either ignore the behavior or become passive aggressive and both are equally as dangerous to hurting the community, the good things that happen that we listed earlier.  I know of many congregations that have that one person who behaves terribly and yet everyone lets them because “oh that is just ____.”  And statements like “God loves her, but I have my moments” or prayers like “Lord give me patience in dealing with him” are uttered and yet the person continues to snap at fellow congregants, stop worship because there are crumbs from communion bread in the altar area, put off visitors and would be new members, or try to make the entire congregation focus solely on them and not God.  And because no one ever politely calls the person on their behavior, the behavior often gets worst.

And if we don’t ignore someone who sins, we then act passive aggressive about it and do things like talk about them behind their back, or call a bunch of other people to complain about them.  Or we sent them a nasty email and while we are at it CC the pastor and the bishop.  Or we avoid them and de-friend them on facebook, and refuse to be on any committees with them.  And if we can’t avoid them, well we’ll just leave the congregation entirely. 

But that is not what Jesus is telling us to do.  He is telling us with love and grace to talk to the person.  Maybe they didn’t realize you were offended by something they did.  Maybe they are actually having a lot of trouble in their personal lives and just took it out on you.  And if that doesn’t work, get a few others involved.  But when you do this in love and grace, be warned, you might find out you are the one at fault that your demands to have only prayers said in iambic pentameter or your reverence of the candlesticks might not be what the community, what the congregation wants. 

However when we do this, when talk to people in grace and love about not just what is good, but also what we disagree on, community is formed.  And community is important.

The congregational council just adopted our new mission statement: Bethlehem Lutheran Church strives to serve God while providing spiritual guidance to its members and the community through worship, fellowship, education and service while expanding the congregation and growing within the community.

Here the word community means surrounding area, but there is also an idea about building strong relationships both between those who come here to worship and those who live in the surrounding area.  And the council wrote and adopted this mission statement not because it sounded good but because community is a wonderful thing, especially when we can talk to each other with grace and love, through both good times and bad.  And when we do that, Jesus is with us.  Jesus is with us whenever we are in community with others, whether that is sharing a generator, offering a hot shower or telling someone politely that we disagree with their behavior.