“Practice Resurrection” 04.21.2019 Easter Sermon

Easter 2019 * Luke 24:1-12

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

A friend of mine who serves a fantastic church in Texas shared with me some exciting news about a recent discovery in biblical archaeology. A new fragment of our gospel reading has been discovered. For nearly 2,000 years, there has been a missing verse between verse 12 and 13 in the 24th chapter of Luke.
Peter returns home in verse 12 “wondering to himself what had happened” or “amazed at what had happened” as another translation says. Remember, Peter has gone to the tomb because several of the women had just told him about the empty tomb. He didn’t believe them. He had to see for himself.

The newly discovered verse that follows verse 12 says this. “When Peter returned from the empty tomb, the women looked at him and said, ‘So, what did you find?’ Peter replied, ‘He is not there. You were right, I was wrong.” Mary Magdalene and the other women leaned in and asked, ‘What did you say?’ And Peter, now looking at his feet, said, ‘You were right, I was wrong.’ The women returned to their homes rejoicing for all they had seen and heard!”

Luke’s gospel continues on from there.

In all seriousness though, isn’t it interesting that the men are the ones in all four gospels who have the most difficulty believing the resurrection. Trying to understand what has happened. It’s the women who step up to the plate in all four gospels and proclaim the good news of the resurrection.

Mary Magdalene is one of my favorite characters in the gospels. In so many ways, I think she is a much better example of being a disciple of Jesus than any of the 12 men whom Jesus supposedly chose.

Mary is the woman in all four gospels who is at the foot of the cross on Good Friday and at the tomb early on the first day of the week. Even though Mary Magdalene seemingly disappears from the story after the resurrection, never to be mentioned again in the New Testament, one can’t help but be drawn into just how important she is to the story. After all, she is the one to show us the significance of Jesus’ resurrection and what following this Jesus might look like.

Just like Mary Magdalene, you and I are called by name.

Just like Mary Magdalene, you and I can bring all of our failures and doubts to the cross.

Just like Mary Magdalene, you and I are invited to experience an intimate encounter with the risen Christ with each new day, with every breathe we take. And as we are transformed by those encounters, we take up our cross and live a life of resurrection here and now as God lives and breathes through us.

You see, brothers and sisters in Christ, the resurrection is not only about a historical event that we are asked to try and wrap our heads around in order to believe it actually happened 2,000 years ago. The resurrection is not only about some future event that will happen when we die or at the second coming of Jesus. The resurrection is happening right now. All around us.

Can you see it? Can you hear it? Can you smell it? Can you feel it?

Mary Magdalene and the other women on that first day of the week did. And as the story continues throughout the New Testament, Peter and the other disciples eventually do too.

Clarence Jordan, one of the founding fathers of Koinonia Farms which became what we know today as Habitat for Humanity once said, “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.” [www.patheos.com/blogs/carlgregg/2012/03/practice-resurrection-progressive-theology-for-Easter/]

As I close my morning prayer practice each day, I do so with the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, and I ask myself almost daily, do I believe this?

Do I believe in the resurrection of the body as I claim to believe it when I recite the third article of the creed?

Do I live my life in ways that demonstrate God’s kingdom coming, God’s will being done on earth as in heaven as I pray the second and third petitions of the Lord’s prayer?

This year on Easter Sunday, I’m not wrestling with whether or not I believe in the resurrection as much as I’m wrestling with how am I living the resurrection? How am I practicing the resurrection right now? Because that’s what I think is happening in the resurrection story that is in front of us today in the 24th chapter of the gospel according to Saint Luke.

In a wonderful little book called Just This, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr illustrates much of what I’m trying to offer in this Easter sermon. He writes, “Your life is not about you; you are about Life. You are an instance of a universal, and even eternal, pattern. The One Life that many of us call “God” is living itself in you, and through you, and as you! … All you can really do is agree to joyously participate! Life in the Spirit will feel like being caught much more than being taught about any particular doctrine.”

In other words, Easter is not so much what you believe about the resurrection or whether or not you believe it at all. Easter is about living in the resurrection and practicing it in your life now because your life is not about you, your life is already part of the source of all life, the God of all creation. Whether you like it or not, God has already claimed you as his own child and wants you to be part of this journey called the resurrection that begins now!

As Pastor Rob Bell said in our call to worship this morning, “Resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters, in this body, the one that we inhabit right now.”

In our gospel reading for this Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene encounters a couple of angels at the tomb who help her remember everything that Jesus had said to her about his death and resurrection. The resurrection didn’t cause them to simply remember the things that had happened, like remembering where you left your car keys. The resurrection caused them to live and breath differently. And that mattered 2,000 years ago. And 2,000 years later, it still matters. What you and I do today matters. Because resurrection matters.

In another book by Richard Rohr called Immortal Diamond [page 211-212], he offers a list that he calls twelve ways to practice resurrection now. I won’t give you the entire list, but here are a few that stood out for me in light of our worship together today and the gospel text that’s before us –

Practice resurrection now by refusing to identify with negative, blaming, antagonistic, or fearful thoughts. You can’t stop having them, but don’t give in to them. Leave them at the foot of the cross.

Practice resurrection now by apologizing when you hurt another person or situation.

Practice resurrection now by undoing your mistakes with positive actions toward the offended persons or situations.

Practice resurrection now by always seeking to change yourself before trying to change others.

Practice resurrection now by choosing, as much as possible, to serve rather than be served.

Finally, practice resurrection now by never doubting that it is all about love in the end.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t just believe in resurrection – practice resurrection! Because in the end, that’s really what Easter is all about. Amen.

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April 16th Lenten Devotion

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April 12th Lenten Devotion

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“It is a Beautiful Thing” 04.07.2019 Sermon

John 12:1-8 • April 7, 2019

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

If you are visiting Good Shepherd this weekend, please know that not all of our pastors can rock the color-wheel of hair like this. And be assured that this is only a temporary adjustment to what is normal. For three years now, I’ve changed my hair color dramatically in the spring which quickly follows with the shedding of this colorful masterpiece at an event called Brave the Shave. Come back next week to see what I’m talking about!

DONATE TO BRAVE THE SHAVE BY CLICKING HERE! 🙂

IMG_0480And to everyone who has supported my efforts and hundreds of other people’s efforts for this year’s Brave the Shave, I say thank you! This event, and other events like it this month in our community such as the Great American Bike Race, are a gift to our community.

They are ways in which we live out the extravagant love God has for us by loving others in our community with similar extravagance.

I’d like to highlight a few things about today’s extravagant gospel reading on this last Sunday in Lent.

It’s important to notice that this story of Mary washing Jesus is offered in all four gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke differ from John’s version – the head, not the feet; an unnamed woman rather than a woman named Mary who has a deep and loving relationship with Jesus.

In Mark’s version, Jesus praises the anointing as a “beautiful thing.”

I’ve always liked that image for this story.

Even though Mark is the only gospel that says that directly, I think they all share in the beauty of Mary’s expression of love toward Jesus. And so, Jesus might not be saying this directly in John’s gospel, but we can’t help read the text in any other way. When he says “Leave her alone.” he’s lifting up the beauty of what Mary has done for him.
This is a beautiful thing that she has done for Jesus.

And so, yes, the story might be a little different in each gospel, but I think the message is the same. And it is a beautiful thing.

In the gospel of Saint John, Mary’s act of discipleship in the 12th chapter sets the stage for Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet in the 13th chapter.

Both events of washing and anointing take place in a private home, not a large public space. As far as we know, there were no pictures of these events posted to Instagram and Twitter.

Both events of washing and anointing involve a meal. A meal served by Martha in today’s gospel and a meal the disciples will celebrate on a day in Holy Week that we now know as Maundy Thursday. A meal we remember as the Last Supper. A meal that is one of the reasons why the sacrament of Holy Communion is central to our faith.

Image result for baptism anointing with oilBoth events have people who don’t like all of this washing and anointing going on. Judas complaining about the wasteful use of expensive perfume in today’s story. Peter insists that he be the one to wash feet, not Jesus as the story is told in chapter 13.
Both events, point us to future events that will soon unfold. Events that will change the world forever.

One theologian reminded me this week that “God loves to do the unexpected with, for, and through unexpected people.” [Rev. Dr. David Lose, www.davidlose.net/2016/03/lent-5-c-the-unexpected-god/]

It’s a statement that can serve to ground us in our gospel reading this week. God loves to do the unexpected with, for, and through unexpected people.

Mary, maybe even without knowing that she was doing it, was preparing Jesus for the events soon to come. Namely his journey to Jerusalem. A journey that will begin with a triumphant entry on a day we now celebrate as Palm Sunday and end a few short days later with a cross of death on a Friday that we dare call good.

God was doing something unexpected and beautiful through a woman named Mary just six days before the Passover. She was demonstrating extravagant love for God, love for the disciples, and love for us.

How do we receive this call to be a disciple of Jesus in the extravagant, loving ways Mary shows us?

I believe with everything that I am as a child of God that God is doing something unexpected, still today, through all of us un-expecting people.

Because our relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus always grounds us in the present moment and at the same time pulls us extravagantly into the future. God is not standing behind us, hoping we won’t mess things up again. God is standing with us, doing extravagant and beautiful things in, with and through us along every step of this journey called faith. A journey of faith that is anointed and holy.

We began our Lenten journey a few weeks ago in much the same way followers of Jesus have done every spring for centuries. On Ash Wednesday, we celebrated a meal together and received the mark of a cross on our foreheads with ashes. It is a dramatic and ancient ritual of faith that reminds us of our mortality, but that’s not all.

You see, by honestly facing the reality of our earthly death, we are more fully able to live honoring our own vulnerability and the humanity of others. Our lives are to be lived with extravagant gratefulness for all that God has done and is doing for us through Jesus.

Lent, then, isn’t just a season of the church that we hope we will be able to endure again this year because we gave up chocolate.
Lent invites us into a journey with the savior of the world who shows us, again and again, the extravagant love God has for you, for me, and for all of God’s good creation.

Ash Wednesday doesn’t just highlight our mortality in a morbid depressing way. And Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet is not just preparing Jesus for the gruesome death he would soon subject himself to.

Ash Wednesday and Mary’s anointing help remind us whose we are. What a beautiful thing it is that this year they are the bookends that hold our Lenten journey together.

Whose we are, as we’re claimed as God’s children in the sacred and holy waters and promises made in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. A sacrament in which we are anointed and marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever.

In an awesome little book called Baptized We Live, Pastor Dan Erlander wrote, “Following Jesus in his death and resurrection means our baptism becomes the overpowering event in our lives, the event which tells us who we are and how we are to live.”

Just like Mary, Judas, Jesus, Martha, Lazarus and the others in our gospel reading today, you and I will share a meal together. And during that meal, we’re also going to have an opportunity to be anointed. Anointed as we were in our baptism. Anointed in order for us to not only remember our baptism in these remaining days of our Lenten journey, but also to renew our lives as disciples of Jesus today, knowing whose we are and the ways we are called to live each new day out the extravagant love God has for us.

photo of kid playing with fallen leaves

Photo by Thgusstavo Santana on Pexels.com

So brothers and sisters in Christ, as you and I share in the sacramental meal of Holy Communion, our foreheads will be anointed with oil today and we will once again hear the words “You have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit, forever.” May that truth walk with us in all that we say and do – not just during Lent, but in every day of our life of faith.

In every crazy day with dyed hair.

In every community event like Brave the Shave and the Great American Bike Race.

In every way that an ancient story about expensive perfume poured over dirty feet still speaks to us, and still calls us deeper into a life of discipleship.

May we join Jesus in seeing just how beautiful all of this truly is. Amen.


April 9th Lenten Devotion

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April 7th Lenten Devotion

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April 5th Lenten Devotion

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April 3rd Lenten Devotion with Pastor Bob

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April 2nd Lenten Devotion

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March 31st Lenten Devotion with Pastor Bob.

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March 30th Lenten Devotion with Pastor Julie

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March 29th Lenten Devotion

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March 28th Lenten Devotion with Pastor Bob

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March 27th Lenten Devotion with Pastor Bob

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March 26th Lenten Devotion with Pastor Craig

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March 24th Lenten Devotion with Pastor Julie


March 23rd Lenten Devotion with Pastor Julie


March 21st Lenten Devotion – Pastor Bob


March 20th Lenten Devotion – Pastor Bob


March 19th Lenten Devotion


March 18th Lenten Devotion – Pastor Julie


March 17th Lenten Devotion – Pastor Bob


March 16th Lenten Devotion

https://youtu.be/xjEMFNepTEY


March 15th Lenten Devotion


March 14th Lenten Devotion


March 13th Lenten Devotion


“Identity in Christ” 03.10.2019 Sermon

Luke 4:1-13 • March 10, 2019

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

sky sand blue desert

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. Notice that I said “in” not “of.” A colleague and friend of mine used to always remind me, “Words shape faith.” She’d look me directly in the eyes and say. “Be careful with the words you use and how you use them as a pastor.” I hear her words of wisdom nearly every time I open my mouth or write something or preach a sermon.

Words are important. How they are used in relation to our faith is important. The 40 days of Lent do not include the six Sundays. Sunday is always a celebration of Easter, even in Lent.

I’ll try to explain…The Sundays in Lent are both happening within this season called Lent – which ultimately takes us to the cross of Good Friday and Jesus’ death. But that’s not all. The Sundays in Lent also welcome us into celebrations of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead a few days after Good Friday. And since we live in the time after the resurrection, we also live in a time beyond this season that we call Lent. Therefore, today is the first Sunday in Lent.

Another piece of theological trivia that’s helpful on this first Sunday in Lent is the significance of the number 40 to our faith journey and many of the stories we are connected to in scripture that involve the number 40. A few examples are – Moses on Mount Sinai for 40 days; Elijah’s 40-day journey to Mount Horeb; 40 is the number connected to Noah and the flood; 40 is the time Israel wanders in the wilderness; 40 is the length of the reign of King David. And as we just heard in the gospel reading from Saint Luke today, 40 is also the length of time Jesus is in the wilderness at the very beginning of his public ministry.

appointment black calendar countdown

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As I’ve already shared, every Sunday as a little bit of Easter, we don’t count Sundays as part of our Lenten journey. Which is how we come up with the 40 days of Lent. So, believe it or not, the 40 days of Lent are not a made up number. They are holy and sacred days. A holy and sacred time that connects us to other children of God spanning several thousand years of time. And for children of God like you and me, who live on this side of the resurrection, the beginning of each year’s 40-day journey places us with Jesus in the wilderness and invites us to face our own temptations right up front.

So, we begin where we always begin in Lent, and maybe for good reason, with Jesus in the wilderness. For 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus has fasted and prayed. And at the end of this time, he is tempted, or tested is probably a better translation for the Greek word here. Tested by none other than the devil.

Isn’t that always the way it happens. When you are least ready to tackle a tough issue or conversation or project, something or someone evil shows up and throws the whole thing off track.

Just like you and me, Jesus was human. He faced temptations, just like you and I face. Unlike you and me, Jesus was also divine. The Son of God, who was able to overcome temptations in ways that we can’t possibly do. Thanks be to God for that truth!

Andy Doyle, an Episcopal bishop in Texas says that, “Perhaps in our beginning of Lent we might not simply see our journey with Jesus in a desert or wilderness as a time to grow close to God, but rather a time to test our faith in God by stepping boldly forward into ministry and mission.” [www.hitchhikingthebible.blogspot.com]

It’s that kind of ministry and mission, brothers and sisters, that we are called into theBrown Round Table Decor very second we are baptized. The very second we are claimed, forgiven and freed in the words of promise from God and a gathered faith community. The very second that sacred waters pour over us washing all sin and sickness and temptation and death from our being, forever.

For several centuries, whenever a baptism has been held in a Lutheran Christian tradition, we hear this question from the pastor presiding at the baptism – Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?

That question is asked to the entire faith community who has gathered to witness this sacred and holy time of Baptism. It’s not just a question for the one being baptized or the parents or Godparents. It’s a question for everyone! In my experiences as a pastor, on a rare occasion, I will hear a loud and confident “I do!” or “I renounce them!” But more often than I care to admit, the answer to the question “Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?” sounds more like, “eh”, “sure”, “I suppose”, or, “I don’t know, what difference does it make.”

Stay with me here…our baptism does not mean we won’t have experiences that I believe are the very devil himself at work in our lives and in the world still today. As we discover again in today’s gospel reading, even Jesus wasn’t immune to such experiences.

Baby in White TopHowever, when we are baptized into Christ Jesus, we are given an identity that can help us endure the temptations and challenges that our lives are bound to include. In our baptism, God gives us the confidence to trust that our identity is always and only defined by our relationship to God, and not by or to anything or anyone else.

Carrying that baptismal confidence with us throughout our life of faith, we can accept our failures and shortcomings, and live boldly in a manner that seeks to follow Christ’s own life. Which hopefully affects how we respond to the question “Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?” whenever we participate in a baptism or remember our own baptism. [www.sundaysandseasons.com]

One of my favorite theologians argues that “temptation is not so often temptation toward something – usually portrayed as doing something you shouldn’t – but rather is usually the temptation away from something – namely, our relationship with God and the identity we receive in and through that relationship.” A relationship that, for us as Lutheran Christians, begins in baptism.

This theologian goes on to say that, “Too often Christians have focused on all the things we shouldn’t do, instead of pointing us to the gift and grace of our identity as children of God.”

Martin Luther wrote a lot about temptation. Like thousands and thousands of words about it. Of all the things Luther ever wrote about temptation, one of my favorite quotes is this – “God delights in our temptations and yet hates them. He delights in them when they drive us to prayer; he hates them when they drive us to despair.”

Whenever Luther was tested by the devil, in the face of temptation, he would say, “I am baptized. I am baptized. I am baptized.” Luther knew whose he was. And that his identity was always in Christ Jesus.

I have a friend who drives by the youth baseball diamonds on Century Avenue at least twice a day, every day. One day last summer he decided to stop and check out a game. He sat down in the bleachers next to a young boy who was playing for the team that was in the field. He asked the kid what the score was.

Image result for youth baseballThe boy said, “We’re down 14 to nothing.”

“Really,” my friend replied. “That’s too bad. But you don’t look very upset about that.”

“Why?” the boy offered quickly. “Why should we be upset? We haven’t been up to bat yet.”

There are going to be hundreds of thousands of times in your life of faith when you will step up to bat and face the challenge of temptation or testing. There will be hundreds, if not thousands of times when that will happen to you and me during these 40 holy days of Lent. As children of God whose very identity rests in the crucified and risen savior of the world, don’t let anxiety or despair or doubt from the devil control you.

When it’s your turn to bat, step up to the plate confidently, and swing for the fence with everything you’ve got knowing that you are loved unconditionally by the God of all creation. A God, who sent his own Son to take on our sin and life, to suffer the same temptations and wants, to be rejected just like we so often feel rejected and to die as we will die. All done so you and I may live because God is for us and with us forever.

Image result for satisfied lifeBrothers and sisters in Christ, on this first Sunday in Lent, you and I are invited to live our lives confident that the life God offers us is more powerful than any test or temptation or death we will ever face.

May God’s blessing, peace, and strength be upon you in your Lenten journey this year. Amen.


March 12th Lenten Devotion


March 11th Lenten Devotion


March 10th Devotion

The first Sunday in Lent.


March 9th Lenten Devotion


March 8th Lenten Devotion


March 7th Lenten Devotion


Ash Wednesday Devotion


Shrove Tuesday/Fat Tuesday Devotion

Each day of Lent, the pastors of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church will be posting brief video devotions/reflections. Please join us in this holy time!

I’ll be posting each video on the blog.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upr8IcLmOUs&feature=share


2018 Christmas Day Devotion


2018 Christmas Sermon

Christmas Eve 2018

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus, the Christ-child we worship this day. Amen.

I’d like to begin with words that spoke deeply to my heart as I prepared for this year’s Christmas Eve sermon. Bishop Jon Anderson of the SW Minnesota Synod began his 2018 Christmas greeting with these words, “The Christmas Story invites us to watch for the surprising presence of God in our lives here and now even as we remember the coming of the Messiah in Bethlehem long ago.

IMG_1762We often look for God in the wrong places.” The Bishop wrote, “Today’s Gospel reminds us that God works in surprising ways and works in the midst of the most vulnerable of people and places.” [https://swmnelca.org/2018/12/18/christmas-message-2018/]

If you recall from the scripture we just heard and the songs we just sang and the lives you and I have lived over the past twelve months, Bishop Anderson’s words couldn’t ring more true. The Christmas story invites us to not just listen to it, but to live in it. To live in it, just like the Christmas story invited Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wisemen so long ago.

The Christmas story invites you and me into it today, and on every other day in our journey of faith, even when we think we don’t have time for it or that we aren’t good enough to deserve anything from God so why bother, the Christmas story invites us in.

God comes to you and to me in the birth of a baby named Jesus – the savior of the world. And even 2,000 or so years later, Jesus’ birth still makes all the difference. All the difference because God is here…for you, for me, and for every child of God who will ever live on this tiny, little speck of God’s good creation that we know as planet Earth. It’s easy for us to miss that. To miss God’s presence in our lives and the difference the birth of Jesus makes.

download (1)Earlier this year, Wendy and I hired a young, just getting started, contractor for a little backyard construction project. One evening as Kyle and his crew were finishing up work on a concrete pad that would serve as the foundation of the project, we struck up a conversation about a variety of things, not the least of which was theology. Kyle was raised and is still active in a Christian tradition a little different than the ELCA that Good Shepherd is part of. What we discovered through our conversation is that we are pretty different from one another in many things – theology definitely being one of them.

But our theological differences concerning things like the Sacrament of Holy Communion and who is really welcome at the Lord’s Table, didn’t get in the way as both of us recognizing the presence of God. The presence of God in a seemingly ordinary conversation about life and God and everything else, while enjoying a cold beer in my backyard on a beautiful fall evening after a long, hard day of working with concrete. It would have been very easy to miss God’s presence in that moment.

downloadA few weeks ago I was in Minneapolis for some meetings and arrived at my hotel a little earlier than anticipated. I was pleasantly surprised to see that my hotel was right next door to one of the greatest men’s shoe stores in the known universe. Which of course is only my opinion. I just had to see if I could check in early and make a quick trip to the shoe store. After all, it would be the only opportunity I’d have on this trip.

The hotel was more than accommodating. I made my way quickly up to my room to drop off my bag, only to discover that my room wasn’t actually quite ready yet. A gentleman named Mark was still getting the room ready. I knocked on the door. Which startled Mark. Mark is a middle-aged, African American man who is probably on the severe end of the autistic spectrum.

He poked his head around the door and shouted at me that the room wasn’t ready, I needed to come back. I said that I just wanted to drop my bags and then I would leave. This further upset him. For the next several minutes I could hear him in the bathroom shouting with everything he had, “The room isn’t ready yet! The room isn’t ready yet! I’m not done! Go away! Come back later! The room isn’t ready yet!”

Mark didn’t know that I knew his name. I learned what it was from a flip chart on his cleaning cart outside the room. I knocked on the door again. And with my bags in hand, uninvited and all, I stepped into the room.

I greeted Mark by name and said that my name was Pastor Craig and that it looked like he was doing a great job at getting my room ready. I told him why I wanted to drop off my bags, asked him where would be a good place to put them so they wouldn’t be in his way, and assured him that I wouldn’t be back in the room until at least 10 o’clock that night, so he could take his time and didn’t have to rush getting the room ready. Almost immediately, his anxiety dropped and you could sense a new found calm in his demeanor.

He said, “Ok. Have fun at the shoe store.”

The next morning, I saw Mark in the hotel lobby. We smiled from across the lobby and waved at one another in a way that can only be described as a sharing of peace between two of God’s children.

Our gospel reading on this Christmas Eve says that Mary, “treasured all of these words and pondered them in her heart.” [Luke 2:19] Mary didn’t know everything that was happening to her or why it was happening, but I believe she knew it was sacred and holy. For a young, unwed mother who had just given birth, it would have been very easy to miss the presence of God in the chaos of a stinky, loud barn. Especially a barn with a bunch of uninvited guests who showed up long before the new baby’s room was ready.

It would have been very easy to miss the presence of God when a hotel room was not quite ready for a guest too. But as children of God named Mark and Craig met, for the first and maybe only time, God was most definitely present.

IMG_1763Just last week, Wendy and I and several hundred other people in our community attended a holiday band concert at Century High School. A public high school. Surely God isn’t present there too, is he?

The second half of the concert began without any formal introduction. The audience continued to engage in loud conversation and walk about freely in the auditorium. Almost no one noticed that the concert had once again begun as a simple melody floated out of the last row of the band from one solitary instrument.

In reflecting upon this piece of music, the composer said that “I learned an amazing lesson before I began this piece. I consider myself to be a ‘good’ person. [One day,] I was outside a food store with my kids and there was a man outside asking for some food. I watched quite a few people walk by. Some actually said ‘sorry’ as they walked by, but most of them did not even look at him or acknowledge him when he spoke to them. Finally, I walked up to him and asked him if he was okay. He just needed something to drink and a little bit of food. I took him into the store with me and bought him something. His name is Bruce. He is 32 years old. He has 3 kids – 2 in elementary school and 1 in middle school. He acknowledged that he’s made plenty of mistakes in life, but that he is trying really hard to get back up on his feet and live in the area so he can be close to his kids.

As we were leaving, he held the door open for us and said thanks. ‘It’s hard when people ignore you all day long. Thanks for stopping.’’ [taken from the program notes of the musical score for “A Solitary Wish” by Brian Balmages]

This encounter in front of a grocery store inspired a composer to write a beautiful piece of music called “A Solitary Wish.” A piece of music in which all proceeds from the sale and performance of are now shared with homeless shelters and food pantries around the world.

Last week in Bismarck, a simple melody began the second half of a concert as an audience ignored it. This melody was passed from one musician to another throughout the band as it grew and faded and grew again. And as an audience received a 5-minute gift of music during a 45-minute holiday concert, God’s presence was felt. Yes, God is present, even in a public high school’s auditorium.

IMG_1769The Christmas story invites us in to the very presence of God. Brothers and sisters in Christ, God is here – in your life and in mine. God, who is not only found on holy nights like this, in holy worship spaces like the one we are sitting in now. God, who is walking with us in every time and in every place that we might find yourself in.

And so, as we return to our seemingly ordinary lives, with ordinary times and places beyond this holy night, may we join with Mary and Joseph, and all of the angels and shepherds and wise men, glorifying and praising God for all that we hear and see along the way. That’s the Christmas story after all.

Merry Christmas. Amen.


2018 Christmas Eve Devotion


Advent Intentionally – Day 18 – Music


Advent Intentionally – Day 17 – Color


Advent Intentionally – Day 16 – Surprise

For additional resources on this series, visit – www.waytolead.org.


Advent Intentionally – Day 15 – Laughter


Advent Intentionally – Day 14 – Water


Advent Intentionally – Day 13 – Create


Advent Intentionally – Day 12 – Family


Advent Intentionally – Day 11 – Texture & Touch


Advent Intentionally – Day 10 – Peace


Advent – Day 9 – Food

 

For more resources on this theme, visit – http://www.waytolead.org.


Advent – Day 8 – Light & Shadows

For additional resources on this series, visit – www.waytolead.org.


“Giving to God Our Income” 11.18.2018 Sermon

2 Corinthians 8:1-7 • November 18, 2018

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

This is the final week in our worship series “Abundant Joy. Overflowing Generosity.” Our theme this week is “Giving to God our Income.”

I pray that this worship series has been a blessing to you and your family. And as we travel this journey of faith together, I pray that this series has challenged you at times, maybe even ticked you off a little bit.

Most importantly though, I pray this series has helped you grow more deeply and fully into what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and a steward of God. Helped you grow more deeply in your relationship with other brothers and sisters in Christ. I mean, come on…how can you not feel the Spirit’s presence as the prayers of our brothers and sisters hover over our heads as we worship.

antique bills business cash

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The eighth chapter of the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth has been our guide. As we conclude today, Paul invites us to live out our faith joyfully and generously “…their abundant joy” he writes, “and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” These words are a direct reflection of our worship together today. Because today, we will be invited to enter an intentional time that will allow us to prayerfully make a financial commitment before God to support the mission and ministry God is calling our congregation to live out in the world.

Our giving to God – whether it’s giving our time, our spiritual gifts, our prayer, or through our financial ability – can often become secondary to a million other things that occupy our attention, time, thoughts, and money. Sometimes our giving to God can become selective, inconsistent, impulsive, or something we do out of guilt way more than we do out of joy.

Paul invites the church in Corinth, and I believe the church of Good Shepherd today, to give joyfully and to give generously. God, and God alone makes it possible for each and every one of us to give in ways that overflow with joy and generosity. For some of us, that means two coins. For others, that means abundantly more than the spare change in our pocket today. Whichever side of that spectrum we find ourselves on, you and I have an opportunity today, and in every day of our life of faith, to give generously. Generously at levels of abundance that we may never have considered possible before.

There are ways in my own life of faith, ways far beyond anything my spouse or I could have imagined when God made it possible for us to give. To give in ways that bring us joy each and every day. To give in ways that allow us to experience God’s presence in our lives in ways we could never have imagined were possible.

I know first hand that many of you have experienced something similar in your faith life. Throughout this worship series, I’ve asked dozens of people who call Good Shepherd their faith home this question. “In what way(s) has generosity brought you joy as you live as a follower of Jesus?! Either through your own generosity or in someone else’s generosity toward you.”

One person said, “By giving to others, I believe I become a little closer to the person God created me to be.”

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An 8-year only boy asked if he was going to get to fill out a commitment card again this year. Yes, someone is actually excited about this faith practice. This 8-year old boy has set aside money from his monthly allowance in the pastor year to give to the work God has done through Good Shepherd. It’s a faith practice he began last year after completing a commitment card during our fall stewardship worship series.

A young mother said that as she was generous she, “ experienced joy through the overwhelming freedom from her own sinfulness or shortcomings in that act or moment (control, greed, selfishness, perfectionism, entitlement, lack of trust etc.). As a receiver of generous giving,” she said, “the way I have experienced joy was through authentic humility and recognizing that I am loved by God so much that he would send his people to bless me.”

A retired couple in our congregation has experienced joy in generosity by helping a family who lives in poverty in our community have a blessed Christmas.

Other brothers and sisters in our congregation have experienced joy in generosity by serving at Heaven’s Helper’s Soup Cafe or Ministry on the Margins or leading worship at the North Dakota State Penitentiary. And still, others have experienced joy in generosity during service work in Houston, Texas or the Dominican Republic or Ethiopia or even at the Dakota Zoo, raking leaves.

A stewardship mentor once told me there are three kinds of giving: grudge giving, duty giving, and thanksgiving. Grudge giving says, “I have to.” Duty giving says, “I ought to.” Thanksgiving says, “I want to.” The first comes from constraint; the second from a sense of obligation; the third from a full heart.

Nothing much is conveyed in grudge giving since the gift without the giver is bare. Something more happens in duty giving, but there is no joy in it. Thanksgiving is an open gate to the love of God. It is the “Amen” of giving. Thanksgiving is abundant joy and overflowing generosity.

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It is my hope and prayer that thanksgiving is the kind of giving we have lifted up during this worship series. It’s the type of giving I believe most fully reflects God’s mission for Good Shepherd Lutheran Church “to share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children.”

The average church member in our denomination – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – gives about 2% of their annual income to God’s work through the church. I believe there are members who are part of Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry who give far more than 2% of their annual income – maybe even reaching to and beyond a tithe level of 10%. I also believe there are many other members who are part of Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry who, for whatever reason, choose not to give anywhere near 2% of their annual income. The fact of the matter is, about half of our membership households give nothing, 0% of their annual income, to financially support Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry.

The good news of God’s mission and ministry for the congregation we love and live out our faith through is that all the money and all the time and all the people that God needs to fulfill this mission is already here. All that God needs, we already have.

The hands, feet, and voices that strive for justice and peace and care for our neighbors in need are those who already call this church their faith home. Your pastors and staff do not have a secret collection of people to do the work God is calling us to do. You and I are those people God is calling into ministry. You and I are those people God relies on to do this work each day.

Hopefully, you know this, but if you don’t, I want you to know that there are no outside sources of financial support that enable Good Shepherd to exist in the world beyond our own financial generosity. Every penny that is given to our congregation is used to carry out God’s mission and ministry faithfully, joyfully and generously. Your pastors and staff do not have secret stashes of cash just in case we need it. You and I are the people God relies on to financially support the work God is calling us to do in the world today through this congregation.

Throughout this worship series, we have heard the Apostle Paul commended the Macedonian church for giving themselves first to the Lord. Because out of that act of faith, abundant joy and overflowing generosity was the result. Thanksgiving in never before seen ways.

Today, as we make financial commitments to Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry for the next year, we make those commitments by first giving ourselves to the Lord.
As one of your pastors, I implore us to give ourselves first to the Lord in all that we say and do.

I believe with everything I am, that when we do that, when we give ourselves first to the Lord, abundant joy and overflowing generosity will result.

Joy and generosity beyond anything we can begin to imagine possible today.

Joy and generosity that will be life-giving, to thousands of brothers and sisters in every corner of God’s creation.

Joy and generosity that are possible because God wants Good Shepherd Lutheran Church to be part of God’s work in the world today.

Joy and generosity that is a gift from God. May our giving always be thanksgiving. Amen.


April 17th Lenten Devotion with Pastor Bob

www.youtube.com/watch