In pm's words
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January 1, 2018, 8:00 AM

January 2018 Newsletter

Grace and peace y’all!

I cannot believe that it is the beginning of a new year already. This past year has been a doozy in so many ways. There was a lot to be uncomfortable with, saddened, and angry about this past year. So, much terrible rhetoric spewed from so many different places. So, many people being upset with others simply because of who they are or whose side they represent.

I am not innocent in this as well, I really liked the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi!

Though the movie did have its own ‘controversies’ regarding its reception by the public, it did provide one line that I think was absolutely brilliant. A character in a climactic scene states:

That’s how we win:
not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.

There was much talk this past year – politically and culturally – about fighting what we hate. No matter which political ideology you identify with, fighting what we hate became an unspoken guide and rule for almost all people. It seeped into every aspect of our life. People argued about sports, movies, games, the news, books, and more. Most argument centered around what we despise about the other person/idea.

It’s exhausting. It was a rough year in that regard for everyone. As a pastor it was an especially trying year to preach the gospel in the midst of those storms and moments of chaos.

When, I watched The Last Jedi and heard that line, I was floored. Of all the connections that the film has with Christmas and Advent; that line was what spoke to me the most deeply. That is what I want to live by. That is what I want my life of faith to live through.

Our life of faith isn’t about ‘fighting what we hate’ (though there are many faithful people who live by that silent mantra), but about saving what we love.

The difficulty with it – and it is difficult – is that it easy to point out the things we don’t like, that we don’t agree with, or that we hate. It is much more difficult to state what we love and what we cherish.

My hope and prayer for me, for us, for our world is that we live into that part of our faith, living out our faith for others in such a way that we are saving what we love, and not fighting what we hate.

Continued Merry Christmas and blessed new year to each and every one of y’all. I love y’all. I mean it.




December 25, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about expectations...

Sermon from December 24, 2017
Christmas Eve

Text: Luke 2: 1-20

 

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ!

Welcome to this night – this the night of celebration – God born into the world.

Birth. For those who have witnessed it is a pretty powerful experience. The labor, the screams, the pain, the sweat, the tears – but, enough about what dads go through. Can you imagine what the moms are dealing with? Birth is a beautifully chaotic experience.

So much preparation goes into a birth, there is so much thought as to what this child will bring to our lives. There is so much expectation. What are they going to be like? How are they going to sound? What will they like – will the like the things I like? What if they like the things that I don’t like? How am I going to deal with that?

Through all that noise, the breathing, the pain a child is born. You love on that child, you care for that child, you make promises to that child in that immediate moment as that child, your child, is placed in your arms.

There are so many expectations that follow of what this child will be like.

Before the birth that we celebrate this night, there were expectations of what the messiah – the Christ, the anointed one of God – would be like.

Powerful and mighty.

Kindness and grace.

Wisdom and strength.

Hope.

Some thought that ‘the one who is to come’ would be a brilliant mind able to solve the worlds problems and issues. Some thought this one would possess cunning debate skills able to leave opposition speechless. Some thought this one would possess cosmic power to lay waste to the enemies of God and Israel.

I’d imagine that – for the most part – none thought it would quite be like what God had in store. As thoughts swirled in minds about what could be, it was as if God was saying, “this is not going to go the way you think!”

There’s something that I think every parent comes to terms with in those first few moments, days, and weeks after an infant is welcomed into their home through birth, adoption, or foster care. The expectations that we have for our children are a long way off. You might hope that your child will have a wicked curve ball, or the charisma of the next best actor in a leading role, but that’s a long way off. A long way off.

For the moment, your kid is capable of crying, sleeping, eating, and messing their pants – at least two of those things at the same time. Always. A part form that, babies really can’t do a whole lot.

So, one of the biggest scandals of our faith is that the all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God that we worship breaks into the world that was formed by that one’s very own words as a baby. We believe that. We worship that. We celebrate that tonight.

It’s pretty crazy isn’t it?

We worship a God who is born to the world and is dependent upon every person he meets. The messiah can’t even hold his own head up without a help.

That’s our God come down to be with us in love!

Some might (and have throughout history) scoff at this ludicrous idea. Yet, there is something special and powerful in the role that God continues to play not only this night, but every night since because of this act of love.

No matter whose child it is – when you see a baby you cannot help, but smile and have an urge to care for that baby in some way. Your words get a little more tender, your actions a little more gentle – just from being in the presence of a newborn.

You can begin to reflect about what you are doing and how that looks and what people might think. Perhaps you want to be better because of this kid present now.

As your child grows into, changes, and grows beyond our expectations, you begin to realize how much this kind individual has taught you about love, grace, and forgiveness. And we have so much more to learn.

New life has the power to do that to us.

I think it’s still a pretty crazy way in which God is made known to us most fully in the world. That through love come down, God is born as a baby to the world.

But, much like a newborn in our life – God fully present with us in this birth for the world can make us reflect a little bit about who and whose we are. How our actions towards others are seen. God’s presence has made us (and continues to make us) a little more tender and gentle. We are able to be better – to be the way God has created us – because of God’s presence in our life. As we’ve grown, we’ve grown into, changed, and grown beyond the expectations that we have for ourselves and perhaps the expectations that God has had for us.

We’ve begun to realize how this birth – this in-breaking of God into the world – has continued to teach us about love, grace, and forgiveness. And we have so much more to learn.

Our God is born to us this night as one who needs to be cared for. Through caring for our God as an infant, we are called to care for the ones God has created as well – all those before us. Those we know and those we have yet to meet.

It seems God’s way of being made known in the world might not be as ridiculous as first thought. Perhaps, through this birth and celebration, we just might learn what power and might; kindness and grace; wisdom and strength; and hope really is. Amen.

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December 24, 2017, 10:54 AM

the one about that crazy story...

Sermon from December 24, 2017

Text: Luke 1: 26-38

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

I can only imagine as you walked into worship this morning and looked at the bulletin and thought where are the Christmas hymns?! What in the world is pastor Matt doing? Why are they dragging this out! Doesn’t this church know people have and need something to celebrate today! HURRY UP WITH IT!

So yes, we are still waiting to celebrate and look forward to the hope of God’s in-breaking into the world.

Yet, while we wait, we get this really good story leading up to Jesus’ birth.

We get to be with Mary, the mother of our Lord.

Now, no matter where you sit on the spectrum of theology and faith – Mary is important. Really important in the story of our faith and life. There are things that we know about her and lots of stuff (lots of stuff) that we’ve thrown upon her that aren’t really true.

For example – as sweet as the song is, yes Mary knew. Literally. The angel told her.

I think the part of Mary’s life that we always jump past (because we all are pretty impatient to get to the birth and celebration) is this conversation she has with the Angel of the Lord. What I find fascinating with this conversation is that Mary hears an incredible story that involves her. Imagine how we would respond if placed in the same situation?

A few decades ago…FBI agents conducted a “search and seizure” at the Southwood Psychiatric Hospital in San Diego, which was under investigation for medical insurance fraud. After hours of poring over many rooms of financial records, some sixty FBI agents worked up quite an appetite. The case agent in charge of the investigation called a local pizza parlor with delivery service to order a quick dinner for his colleagues.

The following telephone conversation took place:
 

Agent: Hello. I would like to order nineteen large pizzas and sixty-seven cans of soda.

Pizza man: And where would you like them delivered?

Agent: To the Southwood Psychiatric Hospital.

Pizza man: To the psychiatric hospital?

Agent: That’s right. I’m an FBI agent.

Pizza man: You’re an FBI agent?

Agent: That’s correct. Just about everybody here is.

Pizza man: And you’re at the psychiatric hospital?

Agent: That’s correct. And make sure you don’t go through the front doors. We have them locked. You’ll have to go around to the back to the service entrance to deliver the pizzas.

Pizza man: And you say you’re all FBI agents?

Agent: That’s right. How soon can you have them here?

Pizza man: And you’re over at Southwood?

Agent: That’s right. How soon can you have them here?

Pizza man: And everyone at Southwood is an FBI agent?

Agent: That’s right. We’ve been here all day and we’re starving.

Pizza man: How are you going to pay for this?

Agent: I have my check book right here.

Pizza man: And you are all FBI agents?

Agent: That’s right, everyone here is an FBI agent. Can you remember to bring the pizzas and sodas to the service entrance in the rear? We have the front doors locked.

Pizza man: I don’t think so.
Click.

When we are confronted with stories that seem too good to be true or feel like someone is pulling our leg, we don’t believe it. I think if an angel had spoken to us like it spoke to Mary, we’d probably act like that pizza man. Disbelief and finding a way to end the conversation quickly.

Yet, the beauty and wonder of Mary is that she knew the story that was told to her was true. She knew it. And unlike almost every other person that God encountered in scripture as they are told about the plans, journey, and adventure that God has set before them, Mary boldly and confidently accepts that commission.

What faith! She truly is a highly favored one indeed!

A lot of things are going on in this short story. We have this divine message conveyed to Mary. It is unbelievable and even Mary ponders how this could be! As the messenger continues, I can only imagine the thoughts rolling through her head.

She’ll be the mother of God’s literal own son. She’ll hold him. She’ll kiss his boo-boos. She’ll help shape him into the messiah he is foretold to be. She’ll probably even have to scold him from time to time.

Yet, as those thoughts of the possibility of ‘mothering’ God come to her, imagine all those other thoughts as well. The implications and stigma that will be attached to her. The stories and accusations that will swirl around her because she is pregnant and the daddy isn’t her husband. As one of my colleagues and friends puts it, Mary is hearing her place in God’s story and how her life and well-being will be literally put on the line.

In the assurance of the Spirit that things will be OK, she boldly accepts God’s will for her. “Here I am. I am your servant, let it be with me according to your will.

Mary boldly accepts God’s plan for her. It comes with joy, risk, and eventual heartbreak. She knew. She knows. She says, “Here I am.”

God calls each of us into service of our Lord as well. Granted, not in the same way as Mary, but God does call us into avenues and journeys of faith that come with an abundance of joy coupled with a healthy dose of risk and heartbreak.

Through God’s saving action on the cross in the victory over sin and death, we are called to live a life of love and forgiveness for others because we have already received that love and grace. We are called to be like Jesus to those around us. And as much as it gets twisted in commercialization during this time of year, we do tend to see ourselves more open to the idea of being generous, gracious, and forgiving (though, there is still more work for all of us to model that life and live that life towards all others as well).

We celebrate and remember this action of God as love come down to be with us. Living life among us, being present – fully and deeply – in the life of the world; for the world.

And even as we’ve journeyed through and around this little conversation in Mary’s beautiful life, we still overlooked one important and needed part. Before Mary hears this crazy story that involves her, before she boldly accepts this commission and call to be the mother of God born to the world – she hears God’s promise of presence with her.

Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!

Before all this is to take place, Mary is reminded that God is present with her.

So, too is God present with each of us.

Before we take on those calls that are equally exciting and anxiety inducing. God is with us.

Before we have those bold talks about equality, love, and forgiveness. God is with us.

Before we proclaim God’s presence in the world – in ways we wouldn’t expect. God is with us.

Even while we wait in impatience for the celebration of this birth. God is with us.

Even as we hear stories that might be too good to be true about God’s unexpected grace in our lives, even as we question it in so many ways. God is with us.

That is what we remember, celebrate, and look forward to in expectant hope as we end this season of Advent and look to the birth of God – God is with us. Always. Amen.

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December 11, 2017, 8:34 AM

the one about the fringe...

Sermon from December 10, 2017

Text: Mark 1:1-8

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, the beginning of Mark’s gospel is a little strange to our ears isn’t it? This is the very beginning of the earliest written gospel. Yet, it doesn’t include the things we expect to find.

No inn.

No manger.

No baby.

None of the stuff that we usually attribute to this time of year and the lead up to the season and celebration of Christmas.

Instead, we’re given a beginning hard cut to a very odd individual. John the Baptist; a guy who appears to be a fringe upon the fringe of society. He comes crying out from the wilderness wearing animal skins and eating foods that many – even those on the fringes of society – would hold their noses at. He is the most unconventional speaker of God’s promise and presence that there is to find in all of scripture – except perhaps for that donkey in the book of Numbers.

John the Baptizer proclaimed a message that is both unconventional and needed. His message is pretty simple too – have faith, repent, be washed. I am more than certain that there were quite a few individuals who came to point, mock, and laugh at the weird guy saying the strange things. Now, we don’t know that for certain, but come on – we know how people are – it totally happened.

Yet still, this unconventional means in which to proclaim God’s truth was heard and craved for. It is written here that whole of the countryside were going to hear him, see him, and be baptized by him.

No matter the strangeness of what he said or how he looked, people began to know that this was a message that they needed to hear, and that this was a community, relationship, and more that they needed and wanted to be a part of. Here they were being told that God wanted to be in relationship with them, to be washed and welcomed into this community with God in a more literal way.

All this coming from a guy who didn’t hold to the (apparent) same cleanliness standard and modes of decorum of the culture of the day (or any day).

John the Baptizer is the epitome of unconventional. From the way he looked, the words he spoke, and even to the actions he took – it was all unconventional, strange, and atypical both for his day and even ours.

But, probably the most unconventional thing that the Baptizer did was his insistence that he was not the end. He was not the ultimate fulfilment of God’s prophecy. He was not the embodiment of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love.

For all that the Baptizer did – calling for repentance, knowing forgiveness from God, and washing people in baptism – he did while pointing to the one who is to come. No matter what he did, he continually made known that he was not the answer, he was not the end. That there was another – more powerful than him – who would usher in the peace that God has promised and proclaimed.

If you took away that ‘point towards the messiah’ John the Baptist would begin to look no different than almost any and every politician, leader, or (at times) religious big heads in the world today. The ones who claim – some more boisterously than even the Baptizer – to have all the answers, the right ways, the right things, the right stuff in order to bring peace, wholeness, wellness.

All of them point to their work; their actions alone to be the only way that peace can be achieved. They point to themselves, and if they point to anyone else – it’s only people who appear to talk and act like them.

John the Baptizer is different because he points to God. He acknowledges that he doesn’t have all the answers – nor does he want to be the one who does. When others (as we see in other gospels) attempted to lift him to a higher stature than he was called to, he shut it down. There is someone else – more powerful than I – that one baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

So, what does that mean for us? What can we learn from the Baptizer named John?

Never think that because you’re on the ‘outside’ of what the culture considers ‘normal’ that it excludes you from God’s work. Here we see God use as the ‘voice of God’ one who is a fringe of the fringe. An odd guy – in more ways than one – who proclaimed God’s goodness and love to the world.

No matter who you are, how you dress, what you eat, or anything else – God can, and God does use and work through you to bring about God’s justice, mercy, and love to the world. Each and every one of us – and yes each and every person you meet (all of them even the ones you don’t agree with) – can and do proclaim God’s life and love through our words and actions in the world. You don’t need to have the fancy car, the big house, the pristine white teeth to proclaim God’s love to the world. In fact, its more likely that the more oddball you are considered by the culture at large, the more God might actually speak through your words and actions to bring about that love, forgiveness, and mercy for and towards everyone.

In all the work that you and I might do to proclaim God’s grace and love to the world, we do so as we point to the one who was, who is, and who is to come. Advent reminds us of this celebration of what God has done in Christ and what God will do through Christ. We point to the one who has come down to be with us, to live life among us, to experience the world as creation does. We point to the one who is to be born in a backwater hole in the countryside to unwed parents.

In our service to God and to neighbor, we acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, that we are not the culmination of God’s promise to the world, but we know where to find that promise. We find it in the promise of water and word in baptism – where we are washed and welcomed. Where we get to see in ourselves and in others what God already knows – that we are good – so repent because you are good!

We point to the promise in the meal that we share. The promise that in this bread and wine – this body and blood – that the messiah is fully and completely present in mystery. Where in this meal, God nourishes our faith, forgives sin, and calls us to be witnesses of the Gospel.

We point to the saints gathered in this place, the ministries that we participate in, the love that we share that brings wholeness, life, and justice to those with whom we serve and serve with.

We point outside ourselves to the one who is continually at work in us and through us. The one who was, who is, and who is to come.

Finally, because we are oddballs whom God works and speaks through, we know that we are not the end. We don’t have all the answers. We know that though our work is life-giving (to us and to those who we serve) we know that it is not ever complete. We are a work in progress working together as a part of a greater whole. Working towards an end we might never see. So, I share with you this poem – attributed in memory to the martyred archbishop Oscar Romero, but actually written by the Catholic Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, MI:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church's mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Amen.

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December 4, 2017, 8:44 AM

the one about watching out...

Sermon from December 3, 2017

Text: Mark 13: 24-37

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ! Will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, if you’ve been paying attention these past few weeks to the gospel readings, you’ve probably noticed that they have a lot to do about ‘the future!’ Particularly our response to the signs that can be seen. These sorts of texts always come around at this ending/beginning time in the church year.

We hear watch out, be prepared, keep awake, as we end the church year – seeing signs of judgment and God’s presence around us. As we begin the church year, we again hear watch out, be prepared, stay awake. Yet, I noticed that this reading in particular has a somewhat different shift in its tone.

Before when we heard ‘watch out’ it was coupled with something negative or terrible. And, when we think about those words today – we always seem to have them associated with danger as well.

WATCH OUT! Objects in mirror are closer than they appear!

CAUTION! This item gets extremely hot as it holds hot liquids!

BE PREPARED! Just because your child says they feel fine does not mean that their recently digested food isn’t going to pay you a return visit soon!

Even today in our world, whenever we hear words of caution from those we love, they never seem to be followed by good stuff. With the news of the day regarding inappropriate touching and actions the unspoken and quiet ‘be prepared’ talks of before have come to light and are shared out in the open – which is good mind you.

It isn’t very often that we hear, “Watch out – the person likes to shower an abundance of goodness upon those they meet!” “Keep awake – if you doze off you’ll miss this wonderful moment for you!” “Caution – gifts of praise and welcome are headed your way!”

In fact, I’d venture to guess we rarely if ever hear those types of warnings.

Yet, this morning we hear a shift from Jesus’ words about ‘the watchfulness and preparedness’ for those around him. Jesus tells them a short little quip about a fig tree.

Just as you see the fig tree branches get loose and grow leaves and know that summer is coming, so too take notice of the sights and sounds you see around you now!

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t particularly invoke in me a sign and sense of dread. I happen to like figs – in fact I have a fig tree (or a few) right at the side of my house. As summer approaches, I enjoy walking by that side as I’m working in the yard or playing with the kids and taking notice of the leaves as they green and the fruit that slowly begins to grow. It’s pretty neat. I also know that soon will come a time that I can pick that fruit and eat it for myself and share it with those I love!

When I see those branches become tender and the leaves putting forth – good things – are about to come.

Leading up to this Sunday, all our ‘watchfulness’ was clouded in dread, destruction, and fear of what could come. Yet, this morning, we hear from Jesus a slight shift in how we are to look and be ever watchful – to keep awake.

As we ‘keep awake’ we remain in hope of what is to come. During this season of advent, we wait. We wait for the celebration of the good thing that God has already done in the world – creation, coming to literally ‘sit-with’ us, and redeeming the world through the victory on the cross over sin and death. During Advent we wait in celebration of that.

But, we also wait in expectant hope for God’s continued work in the world and our Lord’s return to bring us into completeness and wholeness in God. We wait in expectant hope with one another and we wait in hope at work in the world. Continuing to see the signs, to point towards God’s work in the world, seeing the Spirit’s action and prodding among us, and being moved through that action and our prayers to bring God’s continued and life-giving justice to the world.

And, like I’ve said before – it isn’t easy doing any of the stuff. Especially during this time of year. It is odd that Advent is probably the MOST counter cultural season of the church year. Everyone has been rushing to get to Christmas since probably before Halloween, yet we enter into this season with the intention of waiting. Holding off the urge to jump to the celebration – especially because the world has seemed so dark and cloudy within our cultural climate. We wait – we wait in expectant hope – but, we wait.

So, I have an idea. I have this ‘challenge’ I’d like to pass out to y’all. Seeing God at work in our lives isn’t always the easiest endeavor to take. Mostly because we are bad at being intentional about it – not because God isn’t at work. So, here’s a ‘photo-of-the-day’ challenge for each of you. Each day (and you notice two have already come and gone – and that’s OK too), there is a word. Find something that day that reflects that word. Take a picture of it. Post it to our Facebook page, print them out and bring them here, leave them on your phone or your camera as a reminder of God’s presence. If you don’t want to take a picture – tell a story of something that happened to you – something that you’ve witnessed that day which reflects that word. Have fun with it y’all.

We wait – we wait in expectant hope. It isn’t easy to wait – we don’t like it. But, it doesn’t mean we wait alone nor does it mean while we wait, we do nothing. We wait and ‘sit-with’ together. Sharing our stories, our thoughts, our prayers. We work in service and faith together to show and live into God’s love and mercy in the world.

As I end this time with you this morning, I’d like to share a poem I read this week. I think it speaks perfectly about what we are called to live into during this season of Advent. It’s called “The Gates of Hope” and it is written by Reverend Victoria Safford:

Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope –
Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
Which are somewhat narrower.

Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
which creak on shrill and angry hinges.

(People cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through)

Nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna’ be all right.”

But, a different, sometimes lonely place,
The place of truth-telling,
About your own soul of all and its condition.

The place of resistance and defiance,
The peace of ground from which you see the world.

Both as it is and as it could be

As it will be;

The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
but the joy of the struggle

And we stand there, beckoning and calling,
Telling people what we are seeing

Asking people what they see.

 

What do you see as we sit this Sunday at the gates of hope as we begin this season of Advent? Waiting in expectation of what God has done, is doing, and will do in the life of the world.

We wait. We hope. We keep awake for what God is doing. Amen.

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December 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

December 2017 Newsletter

Grace and peace y’all –

Is it really December already? Wow. It has been one crazy year. And that’s putting it mildly.

Each year we go through this cycle of ending and beginning – a cycle of renewal. Each year we hear those hard words from Jesus about ‘waiting, being prepared, and to be watchful.’ Each year those words hit in ways that we wouldn’t expect.

And when those hard sayings and teachings from our God are over – it doesn’t necessarily get better when Advent rolls around. For, we are still waiting. We are still watching. We are still being asked to be prepared.

Yet, there is a different tune to the question now as it is asked of us as we enter this holy time. The season of Advent is a two-fold time of waiting.

Advent means arrival. We wait for God’s arrival in celebration. During this time of the year – as we enter into a new church year, we do so remembering how God entered into the world to be with us. In a way that is unexpected, unassuming, and dare-I-say scandalous. God comes to us in the form of a baby born to parents out of wedlock into a tiny backwater part of the world. It is in that moment of incarnation (becoming flesh/person) where we know that God has come to ‘sit-with’ us. Much like a dear friend or family member comes to ‘sit-with’ us during difficult times – to bring comfort, to be present with, to remind us that we are not going through this alone.

But, just as we wait in celebration for what God has done, we continue to wait with expectant hope of what God has promised as well – we wait for God’s promised return. This is the waiting that we don’t ‘sit-with’ well. The sort of waiting where we look towards the comfort, wholeness, and peace that has been promised. It is hard to wait for that sort of hope and promise as we continue to hear news stories about shootings, violence, and tweets.

But, we don’t do this sort of waiting alone or in stillness. We wait together as the Body of Christ and we work together as that Body to serve those in need, to learn and grow with and from one another, and to have fun. We do all that so that we might continue to see glimpses of God’s presence in our lives.

We get to wait in service and love as we join in with wonderful ministry opportunities like the Angel Tree Ministry (helping to create a more complete and fuller Christmas for foster children in our community) and raising money through the ELCA’s Good Gifts campaign (where we can help individuals and families in need throughout the world). Those are just two of the many opportunities within our community to wait in service during this season of Advent.

As Advent begins (on December 3rd), we also get to ‘sit with’ a larger Body of Christ at Redeemer – we get to welcome five new members into our community: Mary Maercklein, Andy Sidden & Kevin Dove, and Robbie & MaryAlex Kopp. They are all pretty amazing folks to ‘sit with’ in this time of waiting in expectant hope. Each of them has amazing gifts that they bring to ministry not only here at Redeemer, but in the life of the community of Newberry as well.

Advent is a time where we ‘sit-with’ one another. Bring comfort to our lives, providing presence, and remembering that we do this all in community with one another. We also remember that God is there ‘sitting-with’ us as well.

‘Sit-with’ one another and remember that God ‘sits-with’ each of us.

Happy Advent y’all!




November 27, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about sheep and goats...

Sermon from November 26, 2017

Christ the King Sunday (Last Sunday in the church year)

Text: Matthew 25: 31-46

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, this is an interesting text to hear from Matthew as we end this Church year. At the end of this cycle of texts (the ones we’ve been hearing these last few weeks) it can be kind of scary. We’ve heard about waiting, not knowing, being ready, fear, weeping and gnashing of teeth, being thrown into the outer darkness.

I don’t know about you, but those aren’t words and phrases that bring me comfort. Those are those moments where I think, “Am I doing enough? Goodness, what’s going to happen to me?”

It doesn’t help that in the gospel reading that we hear this morning; Jesus is separating the sheep from the goats – one to be given over to eternal life the other eternal punishment. Am I sure I’m with the ‘good?’ Am I one of the ones that needs to be a little worried?

Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing in God’s eyes?

It’s those sorts of questions that we ask when things are ‘coming to an end.’ For today, this is an ending, today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday – the last Sunday in the church year. We hear this reading about the one who sits on the throne and judges the nations. We hear this vision from Jesus about helping those in need, for in helping those in need Christ is being literally attended to and served.

We hear about those who didn’t do those things, for they didn’t know they were in the messiah’s midst.

For us as followers of Christ who identify as Lutherans, this can be a text that makes us uneasy. Is Jesus here talking about how our works are what saves us. That we must do these good things in order to garner favor with the shepherd who sits on the throne and is doing all this separating?

In all of this, we hear and have heard very harsh words from Jesus in what he foretells what the kingdom of heaven will be like. In the end Jesus calls for his disciples and those to live into the faith that he has modeled for them and for us throughout his ministry.

We have to remember that Jesus says these words and tells these stories towards the end of his life and before the cross. He’s trying to get it across to those who follow him how serious he is about how they are to live in the world – the new world in which he is bringing and (for us) has brought into the life.

As he tells of the one who sits on the throne who separates, I think there is something that we at times misconstrue. We place upon our Lord the same reasonings and thoughts that any of us would be like. If Jesus is going to sit on that throne – if we are going to call and claim him as king – we think he’s going to act like the kings and rulers we know.

Yet, we are reminded again and again that Jesus is unlike any person we’ve ever encountered before.

Think about this.

Jesus has asked his disciples and us to see him in the faces and lives of those who are sick, hungry, tired, and imprisoned. It is in them that we see Christ and we are called to be with those and provide for them in their need. And sometimes that is difficult. We can acknowledge that.

We’ve talked about leading up to this day, that there will be moments and opportunities to help, yet we’ll walk by the poor on the street. We’ll demonize the ones who are oppressed. We’ll not ‘have the time’ to go and visit.

We’ll fall. We’ll fail. We’ll be goats.

Did you know that the disciples themselves were pretty big ‘goats’ too? As I said, this text comes just mere chapters away from Jesus on the cross. Where Jesus – as a colleague of mine put it – literally becomes the hungry, thirsty stranger and the naked, sick prisoner.

Jesus foreshadows what is literally going to happen to him. And even on that cross, even in that moment where his friends and followers leave him out to dry – literally hanging from a tree – what does he say? Does he offer condemnation and spew fire and brimstone upon those who desert him? Does he throw those who fallen from his side into the outer darkness? Does he condemn anyone to eternal punishment?

No, that’s what we would do in that situation. When someone abandons us – we turn inward and cold upon them.

Yet, Jesus does something marvelous in my mind. He looks out upon all those who seek to do him harm, those who have turned on him, those who have run from the scene to save their own skin – and he offers up forgiveness. Father, forgive them for the don’t know what they are doing.

After that he dies, and all seems lost, yet three days later he rises from the grave in resurrection. Vanquishing that which tried to destroy him and us. He wins the war. In that moment, the war over sin and death is won. God has staked claim in the light and life of the world. The victory is well at hand.

Yet, we still remember those harsh words from Jesus – the harshness of the world that still continues. The harsh reality that there are still those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, cold, tired, imprisoned.

In what God has done for the world, we get to live out that new life for others.

Our Lord has forgiven us – from the cross. We cannot deny that. In the new and forgiven and gifted life of grace that we have received from our Lord, we are called to be with those in need.

For though the war is won – which is indeed what we celebrate on this day of Christ the King – there is still a long road ahead.

This is a text that can be very scary for us to hear. We’ll ask those hard ‘end of time’ questions because of this text.

Did we help? Did we help enough? Are we good? What does God think?

Yet, as I ask those questions, I think of the one who is sitting on the throne. I think of the one who is doing all this separating. I think of what that one – our Lord – has modeled for us through his ministry. I think of the one who has made promises to all of creation.

Jesus is the one speaking. Everything rests at our Lord’s feet. We know who and whose he is, we know what kind of person – what kind of God – our Christ is.

We look to the cross and God’s action in the world and we see the kind of king we celebrate and worship. The one who forgives, and loves, and grants mercy.

For though I don’t believe that God needs our good works, our neighbors do. In this life that God has given and gifted to us, we get to be with and serve those in need. For in doing that – we continue to serve the one who sits on the throne. The one who even in our darkest moment forgives us from and through the cross. That is our king. That is the one who sits on the throne. That is the one in whom I trust. Amen.

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November 20, 2017, 7:33 AM

the one about risk...

Sermon from November 19, 2017

Text: Matthew 25: 14-30

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ; will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

So, The Parable of Talents. At first glance, this text is a hard pill to swallow. No one likes to hear of weeping and gnashing of teeth. We hear a story that has to do with something regarding property or money, the talents the servants were given, and how each of them treats the lot that they were gifted.

To better understand this parable, we may need to know what a talent actually is. According to my research, a talent is equivalent to 6,000 denarii.  If we remember from some past lessons, we have learned that 1 denarii is equal to about a day’s wage for an average worker during this time in history. So, a talent equals 6,000 days’ wages. That is roughly TWENTY YEARS of days’ wages. One servant is given 5 talents, another 2, and the final servant is given 1. 

100, 40, and 20 year’s wages. All at once. Wow. That is a lot of money. 

An average worker today in the United States, according to the latest census data makes roughly $45,000 a year. So, in today’s dollars each servant is given roughly 4.5 million, 1.8 million, and 900,000 dollars. That is A LOT of money. It is even more impressive that after some time the first two servants DOUBLED the funds they were given. We of course know the ‘plight’ of the third servant. Out of fear this one buried the gift from the master and waited for the master’s return.

J. Ellsworth Kalas once told an old fable about a conversation between two farmers. The first farmer asks, “What are you going to plant this spring?  Corn?  The other replies, “Nope, scared of the corn borer.” So, the first farmer asks, “What about potatoes?” The other replies again, “Nope, too much danger of potato bugs.” “Well then,” the first farmer sighs, “what are you going to plant?”  The other answers, “Nothing, I’m going to play it safe.”

This is what the third servant suffered from. The third servant in our reading today suffered from fear, wanting to ‘play it safe.’ Fear of what he perceives to be a harsh and cruel master. So, instead of doing anything with the gift given to him; he buries it.

He hides it. He hordes it. 

What I find shocking in this logic of the servant is that he has described in his mind a master who is harsh, yet we see a master who is more than generous, he fears a master who is cruel, yet we read of a master who has given his servants incredible leniency on what to do with the substantial gift they are all given.

Something does not add up. The only thing I can conclude is that the servant was resistant to doing anything because he was paralyzed by the fear of not living up to the masters supposed standards; he was in fear of failure.

If we look through Christ colored glasses, this text can begin to take on a clearer shape. The man on the journey is Jesus, the servants are followers in the faith who are blessed over abundantly with gifts from Jesus.

All the gifts that we have received – the material gifts we possess, our own finances, our intellect, our physical abilities, our talents in areas of art and music, the ability to cultivate plants, and so much more. But, we also have been gifted an overabundance of life, love, service, grace, mercy, justice, forgiveness, and faith from God. We are also given the most incredible gift of all, we are gifted Christ.

We have been given so much from God that we are called to invest our love, service, grace, mercy, justice, and forgiveness. We come to realize that when we do live our lives in the ways in which our God has called us, that we will take risks. God risked everything in Jesus; we too are called to take risks as well.

Yet, taking risks can be scary. No one – not one person – can deny that. When we fear that risk we can become so bogged down in failing that we can become paralyzed and just bury those gifts given to us by God. 

If you’re anything like me, as you approach decisions regarding anything you seem to always ask yourself, “What if?” 

Have you noticed that the end of that question seems to always be negative?

What if I’m rejected? What if no one likes me? What if they look down on me? What if I fail?  What if... What if…

What if instead of listing negative things, our ‘what ifs’ focused on our faith and trust in God?

We as disciples are in this time of waiting. The ‘master’ has gone off and we do not know when that one will return. Much like those bridesmaids we read about last Sunday, we wait.

We wait for the second coming, we wait on Christ.

Within that time, we are called to use our gifts that God has blessed us with – those gifts of life, love, forgiveness. We are blessed with the gift of Christ himself. We do not bury these gifts. We are called, encouraged, and commanded to use those gifts to enact God’s justice in the world. We use those gifts to show God’s work through our hands in the world. We use these gifts to show God’s Word put into action.

As we do things, we will take risks. We could be subject to mocking. We could be rejected, could be yelled at. We could get hurt in a variety of ways. But, we also know that God is ever faithful. God will walk with us. God will be with us. God will continue to love us, to bless us, to hold onto us tightly because we are God’s own creation.

We might see those whom a group of people stereotypes as ‘misguided,’ ‘foolish,’ ‘sinful,’ or any number of terrible descriptions. What if we loved them as we love ourselves? The risk would be great wouldn’t it?

What if we shared the hurts and the pains that we live with? What if, we wore the scars of our lives uncovered and unashamed? What if, as we shared those hard truths – uncovered from the sterilized and ‘fake’ clean of social media posts – we proclaimed a God who is present with us in spite of those hurts? What if we proclaimed a God, who through such a great love, hunkers down into the trenches of life with us because of those pains? The risk would be great wouldn’t it?

We’re always fearful of the ‘negative’ answers to the question of ‘What if?’

What if we as the church, as Christians, talked openly about our faith? What if we invited everyone we met to come and worship this loving God? What if we reached out and helped that family who is a little dirtier than we’d like?  What if loved the sick despite their illness? What if we believed the stories of those hurt and walked with them through their healing? What if we stood firm against injustice and proclaimed God’s righteousness and love to all who could hear? The risk would be great wouldn’t it?

When we walk that path that God has set before us, we open ourselves up to risks. We risk rejection, we risk fear, we risk being hurt. But, we also risk being loved, we risk showing and receiving grace, we risk being changed, we risk living into those gifts that God has graciously handed to each of us.

What if we could change our thoughts and ways so that when we ask ourselves ‘what if’ we moved away from listing all those negatives and instead asked ourselves “What if we see God here? What if Christ is with us?  What if our faith and trust in God through Christ Jesus overshadowed or own fears and trepidations.”

What if, indeed. Amen.

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November 13, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about falling asleep...

Sermon from November 12, 2017

Text: Matthew 25:1-13

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, it is always at this time in the church year – as we quickly approach the season of Advent and the new church year, that we begin reading texts in worship that call for us to ‘be on the lookout’ of God coming near. Some years it is more overt than others, but nonetheless around this time of the year we hear about being ‘watchful.’

Whenever I read this text, I think of my girls when they promise to ‘stay awake’ to wait up for Erin and I as we come home from either a meeting or if we are together, from a date. Before going off to wherever it is that takes us from home, one of them will say, “You better come wish me good night, I’ll be up you know!”

Sure, you will kid.

I’ll be honest though, each night after we get back from wherever we are, I’ll go peak my head in their rooms just to check. And, you know what – they’re always asleep. Asleep in the middle of books, lights, and toys.

I think of those moments as I read in this parable about those 10 bridesmaids. Because, if you hadn’t noticed before – whether they are ‘foolish’ or ‘wise’ they all fall asleep. All of them. I think that’s something that we always read past and don’t process. We just assume that the wise ones stayed awake, and the foolish ones nodded off. Yet, that isn’t the case at all. They all succumb to slumber and they all are roused from their sleep by the call that the bridegroom is finally here.

Whenever we’ve read this text before, I think we’ve always interpreted it in such a way that we must be in ‘constant vigilance’ mode. Always at attention, always on the lookout, always wary about who’s going to walk in through the door.

But, I’m not sure that the text is calling exactly for that kind of vigilance. In fact, I want to shift a little bit in what this text brings to our attention.

This text – as I read it – isn’t so much about always being prepared (even though it does ask us to be prepared) but, that the bridegroom – our Christ – is going to come. Though, probably not within the timeframe that we’d expect. It’s gonna be awhile and that means you’re going to have to wait.

I don’t know about y’all, but waiting stinks.

This past week I waited every day for my car to arrive at my door. Even when I KNEW when it would get here, it was exciting, annoying, frustrating, and still brought up some anxiety. Would it get here on time, would it be what I expected, would I be happy with the delivery?

We don’t like to wait. Especially when we know when something is supposed to arrive. In the world we live in today, we can track things like never before. We can know – almost to the second – when something is supposed to be ready. When things go off schedule? Woe be to the one who feels our wrath.

My package was supposed to be here today! What happened!

I literally watched on your app as my pizza was being made – why isn’t it ready?

In our waiting, we become frustrated – especially in those petty and small moments like waiting for pizzas or packages. Yet, still… we wait for other things that are much bigger ordeals – moments where we don’t know when ‘it’ will come.

Waiting for a child to be born, for a friend to arrive, for food to be served. All those can be exciting moments as we wait. We still don’t like it, but we wait.

But, then there are those moments that we don’t look forward that we have to endure waiting – when is the surgery going to be done, how long are they going to deliberate on my job status, or even more anxiety inducing moments.

We wait. And it stinks. Especially when we think it’s taking too long.

I imagine many of you might be feeling that way as we see more reports given about violence somewhere in the world, especially after the news of last week with the shooting at a small church, in a small town in Texas.

How long O Lord are you going to take to return? What more do we have to go through for you to bring heaven on earth to us? What’s with the delay? We’re falling asleep over here!

Waiting. We still wait. We don’t know when the Lord will arrive.

I presume that when that time comes, someone will be bold to say – “You’re late Lord!” and I’m hopeful that Jesus’ response will be – in the kindest way possible, “I’m never late, I arrive precisely when I mean to.”

So, if we have to wait – what are we to do?

There’s something else that I noticed in this text that I overlooked many, many other times. Wise or foolish, these 10 bridesmaids are together in their waiting. They are with one another as they wait for the groom to arrive. They are with one another as they each fall asleep in their waiting.

They are a community together.

Perhaps that is the best thing to pull from this text as gospel. Perhaps, in our knowledge that we will wait. That we are watchful. That we don’t wait in hope alone. We do this together as the body of Christ as the community of believers.

I think about that as I go and visit and wait with folks as they are anticipating news of any kind. Good or bad, it helps that we wait together. It is never fun to wait alone, that brings so much more anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and more.

Sitting with others as we wait for news about a surgery. Being present with family as they await the news of a new baby born. Even having fun with folks as we still wait for the pizza to arrive.

We wait together. We wait together as we are watchful for when Christ will return.

As we wait together we continue to serve those around us, reaching out to those who come from afar and in ways that are different than what we expect.

We wait. Knowing full well that as we wait, we’re probably going to fall asleep together.

Yet, our God is still going to come, no matter what. And that is good news. Amen.

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November 5, 2017, 8:00 AM

the one about that blessing...

Sermon from November 5, 2017 - All Saints Sunday and the Rite of Baptism for Samuel James Holland

Text: Matthew 5:1-12

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and redeemer; amen!

So, at first glance… today might seem like we are smashing two divergent parts of faith into one service. Technically, you’d be correct. But, there’s more going on here this morning than you might have noticed.

As we began our worship service this morning, we did so honoring and remembering those who have died and whose funeral services were either held here at Redeemer or the church participated greatly in the service. Some of those names we called out you know very well, and some might be ones you have never heard. Regardless, we honor and remember those who have died. Coming up in our prayers, you’ll be given the opportunity to speak aloud the names of those people who have died in your life outside this community and we will toll the bell for them as well.

All Saints Sunday allows us that space to remember those who are no longer with us. It can be a very sad day – I’ve talked with a few and I have overheard a few conversations pertaining just to that. This day can be difficult. It is hard for us to remember those who are no longer present with us without that sadness. On this day, I think of friends and family members who have died that helped shaped me into the person and pastor I am today.

At times, it might seem odd that we as Lutherans – who don’t celebrate ‘saints’ the way that other sisters and brothers in the Christian faith do – would set aside this sort of day. The church sets aside All Saints Day to remember all the faithful who came before us. It is a chance for us to remember together, to grieve together for the recently departed, and to remember the lessons of their lives and faithfulness.

It is a day that we remember that we didn’t get here on our own. We have been shaped and molded; guided and prodded; pushed and pulled in our faith by others. Everyone has a story about someone who helped them in their faith along the way; a grandparent, a parent, a friend, a pastor, a child, a stranger – each of us has been shaped in our faith by others. It is what makes us a community. It is through that shaping and helping from others that we become strong in our faith in the ways in which we are challenged.

Challenged where our beliefs and thoughts might differ, but also challenged as we see others live into the life of faith in specific ways – as others have modeled for us.

This day, we remember, we mourn, we celebrate, we look to the future, we recognize our own responsibilities in this life of faith for others.

For together – as integral parts of the body of Christ – we remember that we are the gathered saints. Gathered with those who have come before us, gathered with those around us, and gathered with those yet to come. We are the gathered ones – along with all those gathered around the world - who come to worship in praise and thanksgiving of what God has done, is doing, and will do in the life of the world – in our lives.

So, this day, we remember those who have shaped us along this odd and wonderous path of faith. In that remembrance, we also see our place in the lives of others – as saints, as a part of the gathered multitude.

And it is in that space and knowledge that we turn to our other celebration today – for today Samuel James Holland is baptized. It is here where we recognize that God has called him as God’s own. It is this day that he is washed and welcomed into this community and family.

It is on this day that we surround not only Sam, but also his parents – Anne and Andy – with our prayers and support.

It is on this day that we together become examples and models of faith for him, just as those before us were examples and models of faith for each of us. It is also where we remember how we are continued examples of faith for one another. Striving and working together in this crazy little thing called the life of faith.

That’s powerful stuff right there. Each of us as a part in one another’s life as it comes to our faith. We are invested in one another. Invested in living together this life of faith.

On this day, we hear our Lord Jesus speak from the mountain about all those who are blessed. When we hear those blessings, it catches us off guard and then I think we interpret that blessing in ways that might not always be productive.

In my talks with colleagues and other pastors this week (not to mention in my visits to those in need) we talked about blessings. When we read this text, it sometimes feels as if we receive and respond to these blessings passively.

You that are hungry? You’re blessed, you’ll be fed. You that are mourning? You’re blessed, you’ll find comfort.

Where we recognize that if we just wait around long enough, our blessing will just turn into whatever it is that we need.

I think that’s kind of dangerous, and continues to turn our God into the Americanized religious vending machine genie. Where we just wait in hope that God will just magically wiggle a nose and nod a head and things will be made ‘perfect’ for us.

Sam, I’m going to tell you now – the temptation will be great throughout your life to believe that God works like that. For today, you indeed are set a part. God’s blessing is laid upon you and your future in faith is wide open and full of wonderful possibilities.

But, it won’t always be easy. Sometimes it will seem unfair. There will be days where that blessing might feel like salt in a wound. There will be times (probably more than once) where you’ll think or cry out, “Why?”

In those days, you and we will remember a few things.

First and foremost. On the day of your baptism, as your parents brought you to this font out of love, faith and hope. You were washed. Not washed so that you could finally be clean in God’s eyes; to finally be clean enough for God to love you. No. Not at all.

In these waters, you and we will remember that in our baptisms we are washed so that we might know what God already knows – that we are good. We are loved. We are welcomed. God has already declared us – declared you – good. In our baptism we get to know what God already knows.

Sometimes it’ll be hard to remember that. But, remember it nonetheless. You. Are. Good. God has declared it so.

Then, you’ll remember with us all those who came before. You’ll remember those saints in your life – those who are already present there and those who you have yet to encounter. You’ll be filled with faithful examples and models about hospitality, love, service, prayer, and more.

You’ll remember that you too are a part of this wonderful, crazy, and eclectic mixture of people.

You’ll hear stories of these models of faith, how they took particular pleasure in God’s beauty through art and song; wanting to share that beauty with others. You’ll hear stories of those saints who used humor and laughter to help spread God’s message of love. You’ll hear stories of how we take care of and nurture what God has given us so that we and others might be fed to live out this life of faith. You’ll hear stories of living out that radical hospitality, reaching out to and care for those whom others have cast aside.

You’ll hear the stories of the saints who helped shape us in faith and in turn help shape you as well.

You’ll remember that in these waters you are blessed. That on the day you were baptized we celebrated God’s presence. We celebrated the fullness and completeness of God’s presence. From the beginning of our life, to the washing and welcoming into the community, to the life and (at times) great ordeal that we live, in our death, and beyond; God is present with you.

That is our blessing. In that blessing – in that faith and hope that God is already here – in that faith that you have been called and saved through what God has already done in Christ our Lord – we get to be active in that faith and blessing.

We don’t just sit around. In the faith and knowledge that we are blessed, in the faith of what we have already received freely and graciously from God – we live into and actively participate in those promises that your parents and your community will make today. Those same promises that you too will sit with and join in on in the future.

Today we remember All the Saints of our life. Today we celebrate the baptism of Samuel James Holland.

Today, we remember that each of us is blessed by God.

Today, we remember that in that blessing, God is indeed present with us.

Knowing that God is indeed present with us, we get to participate and live out those blessings and this life of faith for others. Amen.

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